52 Ancestors – #22 – A Heritage Trip – Amsterdam to Austria

This week’s topic for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge is “So Far Away!” It couldn’t have come at a better time! In just a few weeks, Scott and I will be joining my sister Jeanne and her partner, Suzi on a very special trip, a river cruise beginning in Amsterdam and ending in Vienna, Austria.

In the spring of 1938, my mother traveled with her mother and grandmother from Vienna to Holland. If you know anything at all about world history, the reason for their trip is obvious. As Hitler marched into Vienna, things got quite dicey for the Jews. My great-grandfather’s hat factory, Lital, and several shops had already been “purchased” by the Nazis and things were looking quite grim. My mother’s paternal great-grandparents were of the opinion that things were going to be okay. Her mother’s mother, Sophie Spiegel did not agree. Sophie’s best friend lived in Holland and Sophie herself had Dutch citizenship, as did my grandmother, Rose Lichtenthal. My mother was 6 years-old. They decided to leave. My grandfather, Paul Lichtenthal,  stayed behind because of the business, an unfortunate decision which resulted in his being imprisoned in Dachau and Buchenwald for nearly two years.

My mother’s family had been in Vienna for several generations, having come from Romania and Poland. Our family history is rich with references to the city. So, it was amazing when my sister broached the idea of taking a trip which is basically the reverse of the one our mother took so many years ago.

Our cruise is called “The Great Rivers of Europe” and is organized by Grand Circle Tours. Our first stop will be Amsterdam. We are leaving the U.S. a day earlier than the cruise line itinerary requires so we will have more opportunity to explore the city where our ancestors took refuge before traveling to their new home in the United States.

The river cruise itinerary

Our tour guide in Amsterdam will be Luctor Herwig, great-grandson of  Ignacz Bäck. Ignacz was a business partner of my great-grandfather, Herman Spiegel. Along with a third partner, they ran several stores in Indonesia in the late 1800s. This connection was the reason why, many years later, my family was able to escape Vienna.

I have never met Luctor, but we have been corresponding for more than five years now. This is what is so great about the Internet! Luctor saw something I had posted online and reached out to me. We had both been researching our respective great-grandfathers! I’m so looking forward to meeting with him. Not only has he graciously offered to show us around Amsterdam, he has visited the former Toko Spiegel in Semarang, Indonesia which has been beautifully renovated into the Spiegel Bar & Bistro.! Luckily, his English is way better than my Dutch, which is basically non-existent! (Too bad, I can’t take our daughter’s au pair with us. She’s from the Netherlands!!)

We will be staying in the former Jewish quarter of Amsterdam, so I’m sure there will be a lot to see and learn.

Sophie Spiegel – Far Left
Back Row: Ignacz Bäck, Herman Spiegel, unknown man, Beatrix Bäck-Whitton
Front Row: unknown woman, Katharine Barandse (Sophie’s best friend), Unknown woman
Location: Indonesia                     Date: unknown but before 1910

After a 2-week river cruise down the Rhine, Main, and Danube rivers, we will arrive in Vienna, Austria. We added three days to our itinerary so we could spend a good amount of time exploring our family roots.

Originating from our hotel, the Falkensteiner Hotel Wien Margareten, we can drive a counter-clockwise loop to visit, in this order:

1) Just a few blocks away is Mariahilferstrasse 88a. This was the main branch of the Lital shops as well as the residence of Sigmund and Rosa Lichtenthal until 1938.

2) Operngasse 32, where my mother’s paternal grandparents, Sigmund and Rosa Lichtenthal lived from 1939 onward, after losing their residence during Hitler’s occupation.

3) On Templgasse, there is a memorial to the destroyed synagogue where several relatives married.

4) Just a bit further north, is Praterstrasse 18, the location of one of Lital’s branch stores.

5) Another Lital branch was located at Alserbachstrasse 35.

6) Quite close to the Lital branch is the former Lital factory at Nordbergstrasse 6.

7) The highlight of our tour might well be Silbergasse 43. It was here that my mother was born. Her parents moved into the residence in 1930. Sophie Spiegel had moved there after the death of her husband, Herman.

8) A bit south is the former home of Sophie and Herman – Döblinger Hauptstrasse 33.

The map to the left gives you an idea of how all the locations fit into the driving loop. We figure the easiest thing to do will be to hire a driver for the day so we don’t have to negotiate mass transit! 

It’s a little tough to fit a good map on this
page for you to see all the places we hope to visit. If you’re interested, click here to open an interactive Google Map. On there you can explore our planned trip more easily.

Although we will be “so far away”, it will truly seem like we went back home. I can’t wait to report on our trip when we return!!

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