The Josef Wolff family

Joseff Wolff, a dentist, was born on 27.12.1887 in Zell am Main.  His father, the merchant Lippmann Wolff, came from Steinach an der Saale and owned a factory in Zell am Main for ink, paint and stone printing rollers.

In 1912 his son Josef started a dental practice in Gunzenhausen.  Two of his sisters worked for him as dental technicians, Sara Wolff from 1912 to 1916 and Helene from 1913 to 1917. His parents also moved to Gunzenhausen in 1914, where Lippmann Wolff died on 24th December of the same year.

In 1917 Sara Wolff married the wealthy furniture and antique dealer Sigmund Seligsberger from Würzburg.  A short time later her mother Rachel moved to live with them in their large house at Johanniterplatz in Würzburg, where she lived until her death in 1937.

Josef Wolff had married Lilly Badmann on 14.07.1916.  She was born in Oettingen on 14.04.1895, the daughter of Nathan Badmann and Bertha Meier.

The couple had three children :

          Röschen Ruth *27.05.1917 in Gunzenhausen

          Rivkah Hannah *16.05.1918 in Gunzenhausen

          Elieser *27.10.1919 in Gunzenhausen

Family Wolff around 1920. Provided by Mike Hewson

Josef Wolff was only 38 years old when he died on 08.06.1926 in a sanatorium in Bayreuth from heart problems.  Two months after his death the two daughters Ruth and Hannah moved to their grandmother Rachel and their aunt Sara Seligsberger in Würzburg, where they remained for around ten years. 

At first the mother, Lilly, tried to continue with the practice, but then in the same year she left Gunzenhausen and moved to Oettingen to her mother, together with her seven year old son Elieser.  On her mother’s death in 1931 she moved to Nürnberg with Elieser and a year later she put him in a Jewish orphanage in Fürth.  The reason for this is not known, we suppose it was either because she was working or because of illness.  But she frequently received financial support from her brother-in-law in Würzburg Sigmund Seligsberger.  Lilly Wolf was registered in Frankfurt in 1939.  From there she was deported to Lodz in 1941 and murdered in April 1942.

In 1936 16 year old Elieser was able to leave the orphanage and emigrate to Palestine.  He trained there as a policeman and later became a police officer in Jerusalem.

For years he corresponded with Willy Hilpert, the then Mayor of Gunzenhausen, and then almost sixty years after his emigration he visited Gunzenhausen with  his wife Hasida.  An article about this was published in the Altmühl-Boten.

Altmühl-Bote number 168 23.7.1994

Elieser Wolff died in 2004, his wife Hasida in 2012.  They had two daughters Lea and Anad.

Elieser’s sisters, who had been living with their aunt Sara Seligsberger in Würzburg, also managed to leave Germany in time. Ruth trained as an infant nurse and was able to emigrate to Palestine in 1937. There, in 1956, she married Werner Hemmerdinger, who originated from Freiburg. She and her family stayed in Israel and she died there in 2010.  The couple had one daughter Orit.

Hannah Wolff around 1940. © Mike Hewson

Hannah Wolff also emigrated to Palestine in 1937 and quickly found work as a pediatric nurse on a kibbutz. During the war she worked for the British army in Egypt and there she met a British officer, Charles John Hewson.  They married and lived in England after the war.  In 1957 they emigrated to Canada together with their two sons Michael and John. Her husband died  young, in 1967, Hannah survived him until 2013. Their son Michael was kind enough to allow us to publish family photos.

Sigmund and Sara Seligsberger were murdered in the extermination camp Sobibor, their son Ernst in Auschwitz. No other family members survived the Third Reich and so the entire Würzburg family Seligsberger was wiped out.

Josef Wolff’s three children, together with the children of their uncle Max, became the heirs to the Seligsberger estate. They received their inheritance some years after the war through the reparation edict.

Sources :

Municipal archive Gunzenhausen, documentation on the Jewish residents of Gunzenhausen compiled by Werner Mühlhäußer.

Rotraud Ries (pub.), Seligsberger – a Jewish family and their furniture and antique business.  Publication accompanying the exhibition in the Johanna-Stahl Centre and in the Mainfränkischen Museum Würzburg 28.10.2015-18.03.2016. With the cooperation of Nina Gaiser, Bettina Keß and Claudia Lichte, Würzburg 2015.