Monday, December 19, 2016

The Girl Who Loved Chestnuts

Now that Christmas is almost upon us memories come streaming back of my mother, Ottilia Theresa Ohnmacht and her love of roasted chestnuts. She really loved the holidays and introduced her family to many traditions from her past and new ones that she started for her own family. The picture to the left is of my mother when she was a child growing up in  New York City.

At age 15 she moved to Lindenhurst where she met my father Joseph Henry Koferl. Their first date was a double date with some friends and they went to the 1939 World's Fair. Her girlfriend coached my mother on what to say and do when the subject of paying for entrance fees came up. They were married on September 1, 1940 in the rectory of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Lindenhurst, NY. On December 7, 1941 they moved into a Summer bungalow and made that there permanent home. This is where they celebrated all but one of their Christmas together. My mother would recount the story of how they had very little money and she managed to buy a pair of slippers for my father only to have the mailman announce to my father that he was getting a pair of slippers.

Later on when we were old enough to write Santa we would get the big Montgomery Wards catalog out and write Santa telling him what we wanted from the catalog. Of course Santa's gifts would arrive by mail and would be stored in my parents bedroom closet. It seems that Christmas shopping are returning to past practices for I am spending a lot of my time buying online these days instead of going to the stores.

My mother grew up in a bakery but learned most of her baking and cooking skills when she was an adult. Her mother died when she was seven and her father when she was 20 years old. She would often ask our family friend Kenneth the Baker how to make a specific recipe. That is how she got her recipes for fruitcake and pfeffernusse cookies. Today my brother Steve still bakes the fruitcake at Christmas time.I have memories of our helping out with the baking and bringing platters of cookies to the neighbors and relatives. One time Mom left my older brother Joe and myself at home charged with the responsibility of baking some Snickerdoodle cookies. We started baking the cookies off but found out that we were enjoying eating them as much as baking them. Other cookies that my mother made for the holidays were the Candy cane, Rainbow, butter and cream cheese cookies. My mother would start preparing for Christmas in November when she would prepare her fruit cake and soak the cake with Peach Brandy. Then they were stored in the cooler on the porch were they would age for a month before they were given out at Christmas. The coolers were located in the game closet and often we would play hide and seek on a rainy day and I would hide in the closet. The fantastic aroma of the fruitcake with its Peach Brandy would come wafting up while I waited to be found.

On Christmas eve we would wait for Santa to come and each member of the household would take their turn opening up gifts after Santa had delivered them. It took hours to open up our presents because of this process but we learned to appreciate the gifts and the gift giving more because of this. Our stocking gifts were either saved till Christmas day or Little Christmas and we looked forward to receiving these gifts with just as much anticipation as we would have for our big gifts. One of my favorite gifts was chocolate Holland shoes which tasted wonderful. One year I left my box of chocolate under the tree forgetting about the dogs we had who roamed the house at their own discretion. When we came back from visiting relatives I found the dog under the tree with the empty candy box.

Another tradition that we had at Christmas time was decorating the house . We children were responsible for decorating the basement. That meant that we had to clean it and then put up a small Christmas tree and decorate the wooden fireplace with red brick crepe paper. Sometimes we would make paper chains to hang on the tree or from the ceiling. One year Steve and I got to take home the live tree from our classroom and we carried it home from school. One year we didn't spend our lunch money for food at school and used the money to buy a snow village for our basement tree. This brings back memories of my father who would take Steve and I out shopping to buy ornaments for our tree. He would also buy small gifts for us which he had hand selected.

While we were waiting for the Christ child to come, my Mother would celebrate Advent with an Advent calendar. The calendars were from Germany and each day one of us would take a chance reading the rhyme then guessing what would be behind the window. It was a nice way to get in the spirit of the holiday.

These are my memories of my Mother especially at Christmas time.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Family Dynasty and Madame Tussard


The first executioner in the family was Cunrat Grossholz, who was originally a knacker in Zurich. From 1473, the familyGrossholz served over generations as executioners in Zurich, and one of the first persons they executed was Hans Waldmann, on 6 April 1489. Some Grossholzs moved to Baden and Winterthur, and to Alsace and Germany, where they also became executioners. 

Cunrat was born in 1435 in Adliswil, Suisse. He moved to Zurich some time around 1460 where he worked as an executioner. I still haven't found any information on who his wife was but we do know that he had twin sons born in 1460 called Jakob and Peter. Jakob died in 1522.

Hans Waldmann (1435 - 6 April 1489)  was mayor of Zurich  and Swiss military leader. The son of apeasant in Zug, he married well and became Squire of Dubelstein. Waldmann leadthe Confederates in the Burgundian Wars defeating Charles the Bold with an armyestimated at 12,000 men. As mayor of Zurich and a representative of theoligarchs in the Confederacy, Waldmann sought to impose higher taxes onneighboring rural villages which, taken together with a disdain for his reputedaristocratic excesses, led to a peasant revolt.[2] 500 peasants from Knonau aresaid to have toppled Waldmann as mayor in 1489. Waldmann was beheaded on April6, 1489 following accusations of financial corruption, foreign connections andsodomy!


It is unbelievable! Not only did I have a line of executioners in my family but I am also related to Madame Tussard, the wax sculpture and inventor of the wax museum. It seems we have a common relative in our family who was Cunrat or Conrad Grossholz. It seems that "knacker" is a slang word for executioner or killer. Anna Marie Grosholz was baptised in St Pierre Le Vieux Church in Strasbourg on December 7, 1761. Her father Johann Joseph Grosholz who was born on February 16, 1716 was present at her baptism. Johann Joseph who entered the military was born in to Jakob Johann Grosholz an executioner who was by no means poor. His job including killing sick animals, whipped deviants, and made use of the gallows. Johann Joseph replaced his cousin Hans Michel in 1756 and retired in 1761. Anna Marie wanted to separate her self from the stigma that her family endured. Executioners were considered untouchables by society. She relied on her Grandmothers good name for she was Eslie Barbara Fuchs the daughter of a rector, Johann Fuchs Von Rogensburg. This was very unusual for an executioner to marry above his class. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

My Godmother, Aunt Erwina

Erwina Hagen was born on June 5, 1900 in Austria. At the time that she immigrated to America her father, Ferdinand Hagen lived in Lauterach which a village in the district of Bregenz in the Austrian state of VorarlbergHonorary consulates of Finland, and the United Kingdomare located in Lauterach.  Erwina was born in the same village. Before Erwina came to America she worked as a a servant in Bregenz. 

Bregenz is the capital of Vorarlberg, the westernmost federal state of Austria. The city is located on the eastern shores of Lake Constance, the third-largest freshwater lake in Central Europe, between Switzerland in the west and Germany in the northwest.

The ship that she came over on was the Mount Clay and it sailed on November 30, 1922, headed for the Port of New York. The S. S. "Mount Clay", formerly the German S. S. "Prinz Eitel Friedrich", is a fine modern twin -screw steamer of 8200 tons, and has been specially adapted for the conveyance of about 99 "Cabin Class" and 1006 Third Class passengers. The Cabin Class passengers have at their disposal a separate Promenade Deck situated amidships, Dining Saloon, Social Hall and Smoking Room. The Third Class passengers are also provided with a number of social rooms, and the equipment includes numerous bath rooms with hot and cold sea water. Aunt Erwina probably traveled third class.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Great Great Grandfather Quirin Choice to Work as a Farmer

Quirin is the French version of the German name Quirinus.  Quirin was born in Lutzelbourg on July 13, 1809. Lutzelbourg is a commune in the Moselle department in Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine in north-eastern France. It is located on the Marne-Rhine Canal as shown in the photograph. The Grosholtz family had resided in Lutzelbourg since 1680. Lutzelbourg is now part of Alsace-Lorraine since Alsace-Lorraine was the name given to the 5,067 square miles (13,123 square km) of territory that was ceded by France to Germany in 1871 after the Franco-German War.


Quirin's father, Georges Grossholtz was a farmer. He passed down his trade to his son. Quirin was the fifth child born to Marie Madeleine Cler and Georges Grossholtz. They had five daughters and two sons. The family moved from Lutzelbourg to Neuhaeusel between 1813 to 1820. Joseph worked as a Customs Officer in Neuhaeusel while Quirin worked as a farmer.


The origins of the Neuhaeusel dates back to the end of the eighteenth century. In 1720, the municipality was known under the name of Neuhof and was in possession of the lords of Fleckenstein. In 1725 it appeared under the name of Neuhaeusel. The village population was between a 181 to 280 people at the time that the Grosholtzs move to Neuhaeusel. The early inhabitants of Neuhaeusel played a decisive role in the construction of the Vauban fortress Fort -Louis, by producing bricks and tiles and delivered. The village church of St. Luke ( Église Saint- Luc ) was constructed in 1724 on the foundations of an old chapel. Until the mid- 20th century, the inhabitants of the village lived mainly on fishing and inland shipping.

By the mid 1800s they saw changes within rural France. Although agriculture was a dominant occupation, one can see the emergence of new kinds of professions. Through work with censuses of the period, one sees that as the population increased so did the number of craftsmen and merchants. The percentages of people in agriculture decreased due to these changes. One of the reasons why the agricultural community may have decreased was the straying of the youth. Often times a farm was passed down from generation to generation. The younger generations would take on the responsibilities that their parents had. 


Another question arose from the census: what specific occupations made up the broad agricultural group? Most importantly was the proprietor; this was the land owner of the group. Then came the cultivator; this person was a peasant who owned some land and may also have rented some. Third, the fermier was a tenant farmer. The manoeuvrier was a landless or land-poor farmer that had to also work for wages. Last, the wage workers were day laborers that worked on the richer farms. Quirin was listed in his children's birth certificates as both a cultivator and a plougher during his lifetime.

 According to an article entitled, "History and Statistics: Patterns of Family and community Life in Eighteenth and Nineteenth-Century France" written by Robert Schwartz and Harriet Pollatsek. In the past, artisans could not live on their trade alone; they also had to work as wage workers on farms. This had changed with the industrialization and the modernization of fanning. Now there were things needed on the farm that the artisans could provide. The artisans were no longer part-time wage workers on the farm.

According to the Wikipedia article on "The Economic History on France", "The French Revolution (1794 - 1799) abolished many of the constraints on the economy that had emerged during the old regime. It abolished the guild system as a worthless remnant of feudalism."[8] It also abolished the highly inefficient system of tax farming, whereby private individuals would collect taxes for a hefty fee." It abolished tithes owed to local churches as well as feudal dues owed to local landlords. The result hurt the tenants, who paid both higher rents and higher taxes.[11] It nationalized all church lands, as well as lands belonging to royalist enemies who went into exile. It planned to use these seized lands to finance the government by issuing assignats. With the breakup of large estates controlled by the Church and the nobility and worked by hired hands, rural France became permanently a land of small independent farms. The rural proletariat and nobility both gave way to the commercial farmer.[12]

Of course all of this effected Georges and Quirin decisions to work as a farmer.  

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Family Business: Executioner

For over 200 years the Grossholtz or Grosholtz family worked as executioners in France and Germany. Often the children would follow in the father's footsteps. This is how the family dynasty came about. As far as I can tell the family lived in the village of Landser where the first executioner resided.

  The village of Landser is a small french village located north east of France. The town of Landser is located in the department of Haut-Rhin of the french region Alsace. The town of Landser is located in the township of Sierentz part of the district of Mulhouse. Wernhard Grosholtz or Werlin was born on April 30, 1600 in Mullhouse and died in 1651. He was an executioner between 1629 thru 1640 in Landser and in Freidburg from 1644 thru 1651 when he died at the age of 51. When Werlin moved to Freidburg, his son Martin Grosholtz, who was born in 1622 in Landser took over the executioners position from 1640 until his death in 1640.


The travel distance between Landser and Freidburg was approximately three days by horse and wagon. One might assume that an increase in salary might have been the reason for moving the family a distance from Landser. Freiburg’s location at a major crossing point of north-south and east-west trading routes made the city an important market center in the middle ages. This accounted for the broad market street, Kaiser Johann Strasse, and several smaller market squares, such as the Potato Market, “Kartoffel Markt”. Jean-Jacques was born in Freiburg im Breisgau, a vibrant university city in southwest Germany’s Black Forest, is known for its temperate climate and reconstructed medieval old town, crisscrossed with picturesque little brooks (bächle). In the surrounding highlands, hiking destination Schlossberg hill is linked to Freiburg by a funicular. Featuring a dramatic 116m spire, the Gothic cathedral Freiburg Minster towers over the central square Münsterplatz Meaning & History.

For over one hundred years the Grosholtz family held the position of executioner in Lutzelbourg. The distance between Freiburg and Lutzelbourg is approximately 150 km or 93 miles. It would take approximately 3 days to travel this distance. Halve these distances for a horse pulling a cart or for a very heavily laden horse. Approximately it would have taken Werlein Grossholtz to travel with his family to Lutzelbourg from Freiburg about six days. This was a tremendous move for the family. As far as I can tell the family lived in Freiburg till around 1680. Werlin married Maria Schaeffler on August 20, 1629 in Mullhouse. This was Werlin's second marriage. His first wife, Anna Scherrer died at a young age.  Werlin and Anna had one child a boy by the name of Martin. Werlin's second wife died also after a year of marriage. Werlin married Maria Mengis in Freiburg in 1635,Their six children were born in Freiburg, Elizabeth born 1635 and Anna Maria born on 1640.A son Jakob was born in 1644. Jean-Jacques was born on 1646. Two more daughters Elizabeth in 1649, and Katharina in 1651 were born to the couple. Jean-Jacques was born Hans Jacob in German on May 30, 1646, Hans was the shorter version of Johannes and Jacob was the German name for Jacque. He was appointed executioner for Lutzelbourg from 1680 to 1712.

Jean-Michel Grosholtz born in 1688 to Hans-Jakob Grossholz took over his father's place as executioner for Lutzelbourg in 1712 after Hans-Jakob's death. He retired from this position and transferred his reins to his son, Jean-Georges Grosholtz. Jean-George who worked as an executioner until 1787 upon his death. His name sake and son, Jean-Georges Grosholtz worked for Lutzelbourg from  1787-1793.

Strasbourg is the ultimate European city. It has flavours of both France and Germany, and sits right on the border of the two countries. Geographically strategic, it was fought over for centuries between the French and Germans and Alsace and Lorraine. Some of the Grosholtz family served dual terms as executioners in Lutzelbourg and Strasbourg. They were Jean-Michel Grosholtz 1670-1686 Jean-Melchior Grosholtz 1686-1691and Jean-Michel Grosholtz 1691-1724. Two were serving individual terms and they were Jean-Joseph Grosholtz 1756-1761 Valentin Grosholtz 1763-1785.

As a professional you were expected to commit a quick and clean execution. Often the executioner was killed because he was not professional. Executioners weren't treated well by the towns people. It was typical that the eldest son inherited the position and younger brothers waited for a position in a nearby village to open up. Daughter married sons of executioners and that is how dynasties were built. Laws would govern how an executioner would live from where they lived to which building they could enter and who they could touch. Executioners were restricted from living in the town and usually lived on the outskirts. They could only attend church in a designated pew or come in the town to perform their duties. Some of the benefits that executioners were afforded were the following; they were allowed to clean cesspools and keep what ever they found, they could keep stray animals, carcasses that were abandoned including the hide, also they were allowed to levy taxes on prostitutes, etc. Executioners would receive food and other products that vendors would bring into the city through the city gates. These gifts were meant to ease the executioner feelings of being snubbed.. Most executioners were educated and literate including knowledge of local justice system, order and rituals as well as the role that he plays within the system. Most executioners education includes human anatomy and were often used in place of a doctor when one wasn't available. Public executioners who performed their job by sword, fire or wheel had to look professional while performing their job. They would become masters of torture used to interrogation.
Before an execution they would begin practicing with gourds and pumpkins. Then graduate to small animals like goats and pigs. The final step is executing domestic animals.

Many of the villages were small surrounded by stone walls to keep the bandits out of the town. Forests and meadows surrounded these villages. With only a few people from the town to ward off these bandits the villages were at the mercy of the robbers. Occasionally soldiers were brought in to protect the villages.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Jean-Georges Grossholtz

Bickenholtz is a commune in the Moselle department in Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine in northeastern France. In the 18th century there was a Mennonite commune there and one at Buchenhof, and another at Schwabenhoff. The area of this town is 608 acres. In 962, when Otto the Great restored the Empire (restauratio imperii), Lorraine became the autonomous Duchy of Lorraine within the Holy Roman Empire until 1766, after which it became annexed under succession law to France, via derivative aristocratic house alliances.
 On 30 October 1717 Jean-Georges Grossholtz and his twin brother, Jean-Pierre was born in this small town of Bickenholtz. Their parents Jean-Michel Grossholtz who was born in 1688 and mother Marie Catherine Schild was born in 1700. Their father Jean-Michel was a public executioner in Lutzelbourg a commune in the Moselle department in Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine in north-eastern France. It is located on the Marne-Rhine Canal, near where the twins were born. Lutzelbourg is located just over three kilometers from Phalsbourg, surrounded by no less than four hills. Lutzelbourg is named after the Middle High German Lutzel burg, meaning small castle. The village had indeed once a castle perched 322 meters above sea level. Lutzelbourg and has the same etymology as the city of Luxembourg in the Grand Duchy of the same name.Former stronghold of the Middle Ages, the village of Lutzelbourg still has several remains of this rich era. Founded in the eleventh century by Pierre de Lutzelbourg on a rocky promontory at 322 meters altitude, the castle overlooks the Lutzelbourg Zorn valley and the village. Classified historic monument, it remains today only ruins with an incredible panorama. It is still possible to admire a large square tower built in the twelfth century, 24 meters high and various walls and other doors.

In the village of Lutzelbourg, you can admire two beautiful churches in the typical architecture of the Zorn valley. The Church of St. Michael, built in the eighteenth century with stones Castle Lutzelbourg, replaced the old early seventeenth century. Stained glass windows, broken during World War II, were replaced in the early 50. Lutzelbourg village also has a beautiful Protestant church, built between 1907 and 1909. Of great simplicity, it was built in link in memory of the great musician Albert Schweitzer. On the territory of the municipality are also the remains of an ancient farm, recalling the glorious past of Lutzelbourg, as well as traces of a Roman tower.


The Jean-Georges lived in Lutzelbourg all of his life where he died at age 70 in 1787. At age 2 the twin's sister Marie Ursule Grossholtz was born and two years later another sister Marie Elisabeth was born on 02 March 1722. Another set of twin boys were born to the family on 03 March 1724. Their names were Jean Michel and Frederic. At Age nine Jean-George's sister Anne Catherine Grossholtz was born the day after Christmas in 1726. At the age of 11 Jean-Georges mother gave birth to another daughter, Marguerite Grossholtz on December 29. One year later in November his sister Anne Catherine passed. In those days it was a tradition when you lost a daughter or son you would name with the same name. On January 29, 1731 the birth of a new daughter gave Jean-Georges parents and opportunity to name their new daughter Anne Catherine. Another brother, Jean Paul was born on July 3, 1733. When the twins turned 16 their second sister called Anne Catherine died in 1733 at the age of two. By 1735 Jean-Georges married Marie-Madeline Schild. At age 25 his first daughter Marie Madeleine Agnes was born in 1743. As far as I can tell he separated from his first wife and married Marie Barbe Stoeckel on January 8, 1743. The couple had one child a girl born in 1744 and baptized Anne Marie. Marie Barbe Stoeckel died on November 10, 1744.

 Jean-Georges married a third time on May 20, 1756 to Barbe Rhein in the commune of Herrlisheim. Herrlisheim is positioned on the rich alluvial farmland to the west of the River Rhine, north of Strasbourg. The town is part of the canton of Bischwiller and the district of Haguenau and is located on the road from Strasbourg to Lauterbourg along the A35 motorway .  When Jean-Georges was 39 his wife Barbe Rhein gave birth to a son Valentin on February 15, 1757. The name meaning is strength or health. The next year Barbe gave birth to a daughter Catherine on April 20, 1758. Another son, Joseph was born on July 9, 1759. On October 1, 1761 Jean-Michael the twin's father passed away in Lutzelbourg at the age of 73.