The Story of Selma Schoen

Selma Schoen, 1934.
She was 28 years old.

Selma Schoen, Ken’s paternal aunt, was murdered by the Nazi T4 program as a “life unworthy of life.” She was hospitalized for an emotional illness that today no longer needs hospitalization.

Very little was known about Selma’s story until recently. Thanks to Felix Hoffman & Christiane Schuetze of the Buendnis fuer Demokratie, Toleranz und Weltoffenheit im Wartburgkreis (Alliance for Democracy, Tolerance and Cosmopolitanism of Wurtburg), further documents outlining Selma’s life and unjust murder have been discovered and translated to English. To view those documents, please click here or scroll to the end of the page. While exact information about her date of death and place of burial remain unknown, their efforts have shed light on a story that was nearly buried by time.

Selma was born 14 December of 1906 in the city of Vacha, in the district of Wartburg, in Thuringia. Her parents – Kaufmann and Therese Schoen – had one other child Isaak (later named Irving) together, and Kaufmann had a daughter Sophie from his widow. Selma attended school in Vacha with her siblings.

Selma’s birth certificate, bearing her date of birth and parents’ signatures

Selma’s brother Irving (Isaak) emigrated early to the United States in 1927, the same year she was admitted to the State Sanatorium and Hospital Hildburghausen. Throughout 1938-39, Irving sponsored 69 individuals and brought 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.

Thanks to the Buendnis fuer Demokratie, Toleranz und Weltoffenheit im Wartburgkreis for the following letter, from the Eisenach District Administrator to the American consulate.

To the American Consulate General, Berlin

Kaufmann S. from here wants to emigrate to America.  As he told me, he is
now only lacking the immigration permit from the American Consulate
General.  All of the requirements for his emigration have been completed
in the meantime, in particular Irwin S. and the latter’s siblings have
arranged a surety bond for him. He asked me to contact you to request a
speed-up of the immigration permit process.  I am particularly happy to
do so in that the City of Vacha is taking over the S. property as of the
date of the emigration and hence also has an interest in S.’s

I will be particularly grateful for a rapid positive response.

Signed, [Signature]
Hon. District Administrator

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.

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.

Thanks to the Buendnis fuer Demokratie, Toleranz und Weltoffenheit im Wartburgkreis for the translation of the following letter, from the mayor of Vacha to the district administrator.

Hon. District Administrator, Eisenach                                   3.IV.39

Emigration of the Jewish couple S., Vacha

The Jewish married couple Kaufmann Israel S., born 26.5.1867 in Völkershausen, and Therese S., born H., 23.11.1873 in Schwanfield, heretofore having residence in Vacha, Steinweg, emigrated to 22.3.1939 to New York.

They lived in Vacha from 1.1.1903 until their emigration.

The S. couple possessed a house lot together with a yard and garden and some meadows.  The entire property is 75.17 ares in size. They also possessed outstanding accounts and bank balances of some 20,000 RM. The S. property has been taken over by the City of Vacha, as well as 3,950 RM in mortgage debt.  The purchase price for the house was stipulated at RM 12,000, and for the meadows received 14,000 RM. However, S. did not receive the purchase price for the house and the mortgage, a total of 15,950 RM; rather, the living and treatment costs for his daughter Selma Sara S., who is remaining here, will be settled out of this amount.  She has for some time been at the State Sanatorium and Hospital Hildburghausen. The purchase price for the meadows, a sum of 1,400 RM, was transferred to the Golddiskontbank Berlin C. 111.

The S. couple have conducted themselves in a quiet and withdrawn manner here, and they have never come into conflict with the law.  As far as I am advised, the only member of the S. family who remains in Germany is the daughter Selma S.  She was born in Vacha on 12.12.1906, is mentally ill, and, as already mentioned, is located in Hildburghausen.  S. has four other children.  The sons are already in America, the daughters have married into families elsewhere and have also already emigrated, or else their emigration is imminent. The emigration happened for family reasons.  They wanted to conclude the last part of their lives with their sons living in America.

The Mayor:
Signed [Signature]

Sadly, it is believed that the city/district claimed the money for themselves as this form of theft was prevalent during the Nazi era. Selma was murdered on an unknown date, and despite assurances from the city mayor that she would be buried in Vacha’s Jewish cemetery her site of burial is unknown. Below is a translation from a post-war reparation litigation (given courtesy of the Buendnis fuer Demokratie, Toleranz und Weltoffenheit im Wartburgkreis), in which the Schoen family laid claim to their home and mortgage debts, including that which had not been rightfully allocated to Selma’s caretaking.


According to the attached letter from Mrs. Therese Schoen, née Heimann, residence in New York, 177th Street 717 W. J Katzenstein Apt. 32, of June 14, 1949, she lays claim in accordance with the Reparations Law to her house lot at Vacha, Steinweg 6, and the ceded mortgage debts.  According to the contract of sale of November 1, 1938, the merchant Kaufmann Schön and his wife Therese, née Heimann, surrendered this lot with a garden, 8.42 ares in size, and four mortgage debts with a total value of 3,900 reichsmarks to the city. The purchase price was 12,000 reichsmarks.  According to section 4 of this contract, the responsibility was imposed on the city to take over the costs of living and care for the seller’s daughter, with the name Selma Schön, born on December 12, 1906 in Vacha, who at that time was located in the State Asylum in Hildburghausen, up to the the extent of the sale price and the value of the surrendered mortgages, including corresponding interest for the sale price of the house.

It must be admitted that Schön may have, at that time, as a consequence of the disagreeable circumstances, resolved to emigrate.  Schön offered the sale of the house lot and the surrender of the mortgages to the city under the condition that the revenue would be used to defray the living costs and particularly the living and care expenses for his daughter Selma Schön.

City Council To the Premier of the State of Thuringia – Office for Protection of Public Property, Weimar, via the District Council – Household Office, Eisenach
St./Ti.  June 30, 1949

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.

(To read the remaining documents provided by the Buendnis fuer Demokratie, Toleranz und Weltoffenheit im Wartburgkreis, many of which are still being translated, please click here)