Who was ‘cousin: Leo Gassenheimer’?

Leo Gassenheimer

‘Cousin’ Leo Gassenheimer — on the passenger list of the ship Hansa arriving in New York on 16 April 1939 — caught our attention!  He was sponsoring cousin Ruth Gassenheimer’s immigration into the United States. Ruth Gassenheimer was the granddaughter of Samuel & Lotte Gassenheimer of Themar, and anything connected to Themar interests us.

And so started the questions: Who was Leo Gassenheimer? Was he the son of Simon or Bernhard — the two sons of Samuel and Lotte — who immigrated into the United States in the late 1880s? Or was Leo the member of one of the other Gassenheimer families in Germany? Was he born in Germany or in America? How and when did Leo and Ruth connect and start the process of supporting Ruth’s immigration? So many questions and some, but not all, the answers. We now know quite a bit about the individual lives of Ruth and Leo, but how their lives came to intersect in the 1930s is still unknown. Perhaps someone reading this page will be able to contribute this.

Ruth Gassenheimer Brasil
Ruth Gassenheimer Immigration into Brazil 1940.

We have learned quite a bit about Ruth’s story from other members of the Samuel & Lotte family — after her immigration, Ruth lived in Montgomery, Alabama for just over a year, but then she moved to Brazil in July 1940, possibly/probably because of her friendship with Herbert Friedmann. Ruth and Herbert married in Brazil, and her name in marriage became Lotte Friedmann, perhaps in honour of her grandmother. Lotte and Herbert Friedmann visited relatives in the States regularly and from them we have several photographs.

Finding out about Leo Gassenheimer’s life has been complicated but exciting, as it had led to the discovery of another branch of the Gassenheimer family in Germany. Based on evidence from assorted archives, records, and databases both in Germany and the United States, this is what we know — while the data is tentative in some aspects we are confident enough in others to post it here in the hope that viewers of the page may know more and contribute their knowledge to correct and amend. To date, this has been the best way by which our knowledge of the Jewish community has grown and we hope it will continue.

Leo Gassenheimer was the grandson of Samuel & Pauline (née Schwab) Gassenheimer, who left Bibra sometime in the late 1830s or early 1840s and moved to Coburg in Sachsen Coburg-Gotha, Leo’s father, Selig, was born in Coburg in May 1849 and he came to the States as a 17-year-old youth in June 1866. He was the first of four siblings to emigrate from Germany and was followed in turn by brothers Simon and Joseph, and sister Amelia Levor, a widow with her son Samuel. Initially, they settled in the town of Opelika, Alabama, a town of just over 3,000 residents. Other Jewish immigrants from Bavaria were also settling in Opelika in the 1870s and these first Jewish families “contributed to the economic growth by opening dry goods businesses.”

In 1876, Selig married Rosa Strauss, an American-born woman of German-Jewish parentage, and their first child, Sidney, was born in 1877. The 1880 Federal Census captured three of the four Gassenheimer siblings at the same address in Opelika. 1880 Opelika Census1880 Census-Gassenheimer

Sellig and Rosa moved from Opelika to the much larger city of Montgomery, Alabama in the early 1880s with three children in tow. Six more children, according to census records, were born until the family was complete in 1896.

Leo was the middle child, b. 27 November 1885. He completed four years of high school in Montgomery (1) and began work at his uncle Simon’s clothing store, S. Gassenheimer & Co. He then entered the family business, Mercantile Paper Co. In 1910, he held the position of Secretary in the company; he had also married Ray Cadden, an American-born woman with a German-born father. Initially, Leo and Ray lived with Ray’s widowed mother, Helen Cadden. A son, Earl, was born in 1911 and a daughter, Helen, in 1913.

In 1917, Leo was drafted into the American army, as were all his brothers and one brother-in-law. Whether or not they saw action overseas is not known. But there was a possibility that Gassenheimers might have fought against each other.

1937 Montgomery City Directory
The Gassenheimers in the 1937 Montgomery City Directory.

We can follow Leo through census records and city directories through the 1920s and 1930s. In the 1920 Census, he and Ray lived at South Court Street. Selig Gassenheimer died in 1926, and Leo and his brothers managed the Mercantile Paper Company.

But none of this information connects the family to that of Samuel & Lotte Gassenheimer in Themar, or in particular to Georg and Selma Gassenheimer, and their daughter, Ruth. It is clear that the  Gassenheimer families were well established in the Montgomery community and very much able to support the immigration application of Ruth. But there are no passport applications, no arrivals from trips abroad, nothing to indicate that the two families had actual contact. Perhaps Georg and Selma sent out pleas to every Gassenheimer whose address they could find in address books available to them in Berlin, or through other relatives. In the 1937 Montgomery City Directory,

Leo Gassenheimer died in 1956 in Montgomery, Alabama, Lotte Friedmann (née Ruth Gassenheimer) died in 1994 in Brazil. We close with this splendid picture of Lotte in Brazil and extend an invitation to anyone who may view the page to let us know if they have additional information about the family, or corrections to our existing knowledge.

Lotte Friedmann (née Ruth Gassenheimer). Courtesy: Dieter Marcus


We thank the Marcus family and Sabine Schwab for their generous support in telling the story of the Gassenheimer family. If you have any information or questions about the Gassenheimer family of Bibra which you would like to share, please contact Sharon Meen @ [email protected] or [email protected]. We would be pleased to hear from you.

Year: 1939; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 6314; Line: 4; Page Number: 137
Year: 1880; Census Place: Opelika, Lee, Alabama; Roll: 19; Family History Film: 1254019; Page: 42C; Enumeration District: 089; Image: 0086
Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.
Original data: WWI Soldiers’ Draftees, by County, 1918–1919. Montgomery, Alabama: Alabama Department of Archives and History. SG017111-3.
Ancestry.com. Montgomery, Alabama Directories, 1880-95 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2000.
Ancestry.com. Alabama, Select Marriages, 1816-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc, 2014.
Year: 1900; Census Place: Manhattan, New York, New York; Roll: 1115; Page: 10A; Enumeration District: 0770; FHL microfilm: 1241115