Members of the Morgenstern family meet in the hometown of their ancestors
by Till Lieberz-Groß
As participants of the visiting programme of the City of Frankfurt 2016 members of the extended Morgenstern family gather in the former hometown of their ancestors arriving from different continents:
- Sonja Morgenstern-Marchesano, widow of Max Unger and Armand Marchesano, USA;
- her son Jeff Unger and his wife Alisa Unger, USA;
- Karen Pomerance, daughter of Zelma Brown, née Morgenstern, Sonja’s sister, United Kingdom
- Karen’s daughter Sasha Pomerance, Israel (Aliyah);
- Yael Greenspan and Tiferet Lehrman, granddaughters of Sonja’s youngest sister Gala (Egele) Greenspan, née Morgenstern, Israel:
Three generations of Morgensterns strengthen their family ties while searching for their family history – a family with German-Jewish roots.
End of childhood
Sonja Morgenstern is only six years old, when the Nazi-terror befalls her family, devastating for herself and all members of the big family.
Sonja was born in 1932 in Frankfurt as the oldest daughter of Fajge Lea and Leib (Leo) Morgenstern – into a feeling of security in a safe place offering a wonderful life in a well-to-do, deeply religious family
The Morgensterns run a prosperous clothing store in 28, Berger Street in Frankfurt; according to the family it was run under the name “Steinberger” after Leo’s mother, Sara Steinberger.
The Morgensterns live above the store in a spacious flat.
The Morgensterns lead a social life.
They enjoy music; some family members play the violin or the viola.
Leib/ Leo and Fajge Morgenstern, née Minc
Leo and Fajge get married in 1930 in Frankfurt after their mothers had made them get to know each other. Leo and Fajge have three daughters: Sonja, Zelma and Eigele (Gala).
Fajge Morgenstern, née Minc, born in 1906 in Krasnik/Poland has got two sisters and one brother, 'Leo Minc', who later will be able to rescue her family.
Leo Morgenstern, born in 1901 in Zrencin/ Poland has got four brothers and two sisters; but only him and two of his brothers, Izzy and Chaskel, will survive the Nazi-terror.
In the night of November 9th,1938 (the November pogrom), Sonja and her sister Zelma, born in 1935, are with their Aunt Lotte, as her mother Fajge is still in hospital where she has given birth to her youngest daughter Eigele (later: Gala) on November 4th .
The flat is demolished, things are thrown out of the window. But Uncle Izzy, Leo’s brother and Lotto’s husband succeeds in hiding himself until he is able to escape to the USA. His family will follow him there later. Leo Morgenstern, Sonja’s father, is arrested while visiting his wife in hospital and is deported to the concentration camp Buchenwald on November 10th, 1938.
Emigration to England/ UK
Fajge leaves the hospital in a hurry in order to provide her family with exit papers. She succeeds in doing so, especially because her brother Leo Minc has already emigrated to the UK with his family in 1933: Leo runs a thriving tailoring business in London’s Savile Road.
While waiting for their emigration the Morgensterns have to leave their comfortable flat to live in a so called “Judenhaus” in 32, Gauß Street.
After Leo Morgenstern's release from Buchenwald in January 1939 they are allowed to emigrate to the UK in March 1939.
Living in a foreign country is not easy despite Uncle Leo’s support. Father Leo, who has been a successful businessman in Frankfurt, now has to earn his living as a casual labourer to support his family as the only breadwinner.
And this difficult situation gets even worse after the outbreak of World War II: Father Leo is interned at the Isle of Man as an “enemy alien”. And because of the bombing of London the family is torn apart even further: While Zelma and Egele are evacuated with their mother Fajge, the seven-year-old Sonja is sent to the countryside together with her classmates – completely on her own and without speaking English. Until the end of the war Sonja quite often will be without her family. She has to learn English very quickly – and soon forgets to speak in her mother tongue German.
Her mother Fajge – only 37 years old at that time – dies on November 29th, 1943 from a not treated tuberculosis she got while staying in hospital in Frankfurt in 1938.
At the age of about twelve Sonja becomes – at times sent back to London – the “foster” mother of her younger siblings. This very difficult situation improves a bit due to the fact that the three Morgenstern-girls move to Shefford in Bedfordshire (55 miles from London) in 1943. There a Jewish school had been established, founded by Dr. Salomon Schonfeld, a school in which also a lot of Kindertransport-Kinder had found a new home.
The school-children live with very caring foster parents from the village. These foster-parents support the children much more than most villagers did during Sonja’s first evacuation. Leaving them after the war is heartbreaking for a lot of the children. On the other hand it becomes obvious that many British people especially in the countryside cannot imagine the hard times the Jewish refugees have to go through.
Only after the end of the war the Morgensterns are united again in London: Father Leo, Sonja, Zelma, Eigele – without their beloved mother. But with them lives “Oma” Fajge’s mother and their grandmother. Oma Minc had been deported from Germany to Poland in 1938– like many Jews with Polish roots – but due to the efforts of her son Leo Minc she eventually was allowed to emigrate to the UK.
After having passed her final school exams Sonja starts an apprenticeship as a seamstress – her talented mother and her successful uncle as role models. She works at Mascott Model Company till 1951; after a secretarial training she starts working in a hospital.
Deportation to Poland in 1938
Chaskel Morgenstern, one of the brothers of Sonja’s father Leo, Chaskel’s wife Blanka and other Morgenstern relatives are deported to Poland during the so called “Polenaktion” in 1938. Both grandfathers, Morgenstern and Minc, had previously lost their lives in different pogroms in Poland. Being afraid of further pogroms both families had left Poland to live in Germany.
Chaskel and Blanka Morgenstern, née Merenländer, are separated in the ghetto of Krosno/ Poland.
Chaskel can escape and is able to survive in different hiding places, e.g. in a hut on the farm of Family Czajkowski. They were honoured in Yad Vashem years later. Chaskel and Blanka will not see each other again. Blanka was probably murdered in a death camp; we do not know anything about her death.
Return to Frankfurt
Chaskel Morgenstern returns to Frankfurt after the war and establishes a new business, a cloth wholesale and shops on “Zeil 13” and 55, Kaiser Street. He lives – as occasionally his brother Leo and his niece Sonja do – in 12, Hansaallee.
As Leo did not find a decent job in the UK, Chaskel convinces his brother to join him in Frankfurt. Leo arrives in Frankfurt in 1950. Obviously Leo was meant to become head of the Kaiser Street branch, but he dies very early in 1954, only 53 years old – due to his bad health: He had been tortured during his stay at the concentration camp in Buchenwald. He is buried in the Jewish cemetery, Eckenheimer Landstraße in Frankfurt.
Sonja moves to Frankfurt in 1951 but goes back to London after some months – to her younger sisters with whom she has been living after their father went to Frankfurt. But then she returns to Frankfurt living and working with her uncle and her father until his death.
Chaskel Morgenstern, born in 1904 in Zrencin, finally emigrates to the USA with his second wife Irene, née Margulies. He dies in 1976 in New York.
Fresh start in the USA
In Frankfurt Sonja meets her husband to be, Max Unger.
Sonja gets married to Max who is a member of the US Army (Lieutenant of the Air Force) in 1955 and moves with him to Neu-Ulm/ Germany and afterwards to the USA (1956).
Max Unger, was born in 1928 in Oldenburg/Germany. Like Sonja’s family his family is forced to flee from the Nazis. They emigrate via Cuba to the USA.
Max survives as a “Kindertransport-Kind” in the UK. He dies in 1963.
Sonja is a young widow with two sons: five-year-old Larry and 18-months-old Jeffrey. Years later Sonja marries her second husband, Armand Marchesano. After his death in 2016 Sonja accompanies her son Jeff to Frankfurt who is invited as a participant of the visiting programme of the City of Frankfurt.
Armand Marchesano was an entrepreneur and professional musician. He dies in February 2016.
Sonja is still living in Orlando, Florida/USA.
She gives lectures to teachers and students. And in contrast to a lot of other Jewish families with German roots she decides to speak about her family history to her young sons.
Second and third generation
Jeff Unger, born in 1961, runs a successful jewelry business together with his wife, Alisa. He works on a honorary base as a golf coach at a High School in Atlanta/USA. He and his wife Alisa believe very strongly that it is inevitable to confront the forthcoming generations with the Shoa – in Germany and the USA alike.
Karen Pomerance, born in 1962, Sonja’s niece and Zelma’s daughter lives in London/ UK. She runs a spice business “Spice Ways” especially offering spices imported from Israel.
Her mother Zelma marries an Englishman after the war. In her new family they do not mention her German roots but they follow the Jewish traditions. Karen feels “British”; German is not spoken in the family.
Her daughter Sasha, born in 1987 in London attended a Jewish school and “made Aliyah” i.e. “emigrated” to Israel two years ago. She works as an event manager.
Yael Greenspan, born in 1994 and Tiferet Lehrman, born in 1995, granddaughters of Gala, the youngest Morgenstern girl, live in Israel – like their grandmother, Gala Greenspan.
Tiferet works as a make-up artist and Yael is going to study interior design after having worked in a kindergarten.
The family life of all Morgenstern daughters and their offspring is still characterized and strongly influenced by Jewish culture and tradition but not all members live in accordance with strict religious rules. But no matter whether liberal or orthodox – the family bonds are very strong.
The offspring of the Morgensterns live all over the world:
In the USA and the UK; in Israel and in Switzerland; in Argentina and Cuba; in South Africa and Australia; in Austria and Germany.
The students of Anne-Frank-School are very impressed by their energetic power and their love of life. They appreciate talking to an immediate eye witness and her family in the second and third generation, because they can feel “closer to their biographies” doing so. While one student criticizes “that some do not want to deal with the topic”, another one emphasizes the necessity “to confront students with the topic “Shoah” even as early as in grade 7 [in Germany about 12-year-old students]”.
Everyone agrees to accept a different – even opposite – point of view and not to lose one’s empathy especially while quarrelling: “How would you feel in their shoes?” They agree that the main issue is to take responsibility for the society you are living in.
The visiting programme of the City of Frankfurt enabled three generations of the Morgensterns to celebrate a family reunion in the hometown of their parents and (great-) grandparents:
„I have only praise for every aspect of this programme. From beginning to end I feel we were treated with empathy and respect. Participating in this programme has changed my feelings towards Germany and I feel I would now like to visit again and possibly vacation in Germany. Prior to this trip I would have never considered it”, Karen Pomerance expresses her thanks on behalf of the Morgensterns.
The only disappointment of the journey: The former Morgenstern-house in 28, Berger Street does not exist anymore; it was obviously torn down during the construction of the underground tube in that area…
The visit at Anne-Frank-School was one of the highlights of the family visit to Frankfurt:
“Wonderful morning at the school. I think this is a very important part of the programme. The students were interested, animated and a pleasure to talk to.”
Till Lieberz-Groß – November 2016
*Participants of the visiting programme of the City of Frankfurt in 2016 –
First, second and third generation:*
Sonja Morgenstern-Marchesano, widow of Max Unger, widow of Armand Marchesano,
her son Jeff Unger and his wife Alisa Unger,
Karen Pomerance, daughter of Zelma Brown, Sonja’s sister,
Sasha Pomerance, Karen’s daughter,
Yael Greenspan and Tiferet Lehrman, granddaughters of Sonja’s sister Gala (Egele) Greenspan
The Morgenstern parents
Leib/ Leo Morgenstern,
born on February 27th , 1901 in Zrencin/ Krosno, Poland
emigrated 1939 with his wife and his three daughters
from Frankfurt to London/ UK;
returned to Frankfurt in 1950,
died in Frankfurt on February 22nd , 1954
is buried in Frankfurt
Fajge Lea Morgenstern, née Minc,
born on June 15th ,1906 in Krasnik/ Poland
emigrated to London/ UK in 1939
died on November 29th , 1943 in Twyford/UK
Daughters of Fajge and Leo
Sonja Marchesano, née Morgenstern
widow of Max Unger and Armand Marchesano,
born on March 31st ,1932 in Frankfurt,
seamstress and clerk
widow of Max Unger, born June 27th ,1928 in Oldenburg
died in June 1963 / USA
widow of Armand Marchesano, born July 7th ,1927
died on February 29th ,2016/ USA
businessman and musician (Orlando Society Orchestra)
Sonja lives in Orlando/ Florida, USA
Zelma/ Selma Brown, née Morgenstern
born on February 7th,1935 in Frankfurt
died on July 6th ,1995/ UK
Egele/ Gala Greenspan, née Morgenstern
born on November 4th ,1938 in Frankfurt
Gala lives in Jerusalem/ Israel
Sons of Sonja Marchesano, née Morgenstern
Larry Unger, born on December 17th , 1957/ USA
Jeffrey/ Jeff Unger, born on November 4th ,1961
married to Alisa Unger, born on November 28th, 1961
the couple lives in Atlanta/Georgia, USA
Jeff and Alisa have one daughter, Brandi Maxine, born on June 22nd, 1988 and
one son, Jason Scott, born on October 31st, 1991
Daughter of Zelma Brown, née Morgenstern
Karen Pomerance, née Brown
born on July 21st ,1962
lives in London/UK
two sons: Joshua, born on February 16th, 1990 with his wife Michelle and
daughter Amelie, born on January 20th, 2015 (making Aliyah in 2016) and
Nathan, born on July 22nd, 1993 (London/UK)
and one daughter: Sasha
Granddaughter of Zelma Brown, née Morgenstern
Sasha Pomerance, born on July 13th , 1987 in London/UK
emigration to Israel (Aliyah)
lives in Tel Aviv/ Israel
Granddaughters of Gala Greenspan, née Morgenstern
Yael Greenspan, born on May 30th ,1994 in Jerusalem/ Israel
is studying interior design in Israel
Tiferet Lehrman, born in 1995 in Jerusalem/Israel
make-up artist (especially for brides)
lives in Jerusalem (like Yael)
Brothers of Leo Morgenstern
born on February 15th ,1904 in Zrencin/ Poland
in Frankfurt since 1927
died onApril 2nd ,1976 in New York/ USA
deportation to Poland in 1938
returned to Frankfurt after World War II
later emigration to the USA
his first wife, Blanka, née Merenländer
was deported and murdered
in 1949 second marriage to Irene, née Margulies in Frankfurt
born on March 31st ,1918 in Janow/Poland
three sons: Leo, Steven and Seymour
emigrated to the USA, followed by family
Brother of Fajge Morgenstern, née Minc
emigrated with his family to the UK in 1933
bespoke tailor and entrepreneur
Ester Malka Minc (Fajge’s mother)
deportation to Poland in 1938,
emigrated later to the UK
Sara Steinberger, (Leo’s mother)
died before World War II; is buried in Frankfurt
Grandfathers (Leo’s and Fajge’s fathers)
both killed in pogroms in Poland
before their families flee to Germany
• Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv Wiesbaden – Main State Archive of Hesse, Wiesbaden
• Sonja Marchesano, My mother’s candlesticks (script)
• Karen Pomerance, Evaluation 2016
• Recording in Anne-Frank-Schule, Frankfurt Mai 2016
• Friedhofsverwaltung der Jüdischen Gemeinde Frankfurt- administration of the Jewish cemetries
Fotos: Sonja Marchesano; Fabian Henning; Till Lieberz-Groß
Research and text: Till Lieberz-Groß