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The Photo of the Wiesenmuller Refugees at Frankfurt on the Oder

by Betty Miley Ashley

This photograph was given to me in 1982 by Lydia Pinnecker Schmidt of Fresno, CA. I began visiting Lydia in the early 1980’s to learn about the people of the birthplace of my mother, Molly Schafer Miley. Lydia knew I would appreciate the picture of her and her fellow travelers. It became the center of an interesting search which shall be explained below.
Adam Pinnecker, Lydia’s father, was a friend of my grandfather, Georg Schafer, of Rocky Ford, CO. Adam’s sister, Mary Katherine Dahmer, lived in Rocky Ford. Her daughter, Molly Dahmer, married my mother’s brother, Fred Schafer of Rocky Ford.

Lydia told me the names of all the people pictured. She knew where most of them had lived immediately following the migration to America. She did not know the fate of the Webers who probably remained in Germany. Mr. Weber lost his wife on the way to Germany. Mrs. Weber, pictured, was a second wife. According to the Frankfurt on Oder refugee list, Mr. Weber was traveling with a son.

With the picture in hand, I contacted Marie Vogel Martini, the woman who was the little girl in the plaid dress positioned in the center of the picture. I shall soon tell what I know about this family which was the George Vogel family of California.

Anna Heintz Heintz lived in Sanger, CA, most of her life. She came from Mariendfeld, Samara, but had become friendly with (John) Georg Fritzler on the trip. She was on her way to California to marry a distant cousin, which she subsequently did. Anna came to America aboard the USS Thuringia along with the George Vogels who were on their way to Fresno. I spoke to her once on the telephone. But in answer to my questions she replied that her memories of Russia had almost completely faded. She knew nothing of the fate of (John) George Fritzler.

Lydia’s elder sister, Pauline Pinnecker, had been engaged to marry in Wiesenmuller. Lydia remembered that the family name of Pauline’s fiancé sounded something like “Grevenjacob.” (More on this name later.) The decision was finally made to leave the fiancé behind. Then in Frankfurt, Pauline decided to marry another refugee: Chris Grass, who was on his way to Dinuba, CA.

Adam Pinnecker had injured his leg on the traumatic trip out of Russia. The family feared that he would not be admitted to the States, so for several years they remained in Germany. Pauline went on to California with her husband. Because her destination was Dinuba, the rest of the family eventually came to Fresno which is near Dinuba. The last I heart Theresa Lehman was still living in Fresno but not well. The baby sister, Emma Higuera, is a widow and lives in Fresno. She was very young and remembers only small bits about the journey.

Maria Vogel Martina and Lydia Pinnecker Schmidt died during the middle 1980’s. I had learned from Maria that her maternal Kindsvater relatives were related to my grandmother’s Muller family. Some of the Kindsvaters lived in Rocky Ford. Later two mutual cousins of Maria and my grandmother lived near Fresno in Sanger, CA.

George Vogel was a good friend of my grandfather, George Schafer. The Vogels visited often with my oldest maternal aunt, Lizzie Schafer Will, who lived in Fresno. When this family arrived in the US they spent time with Vogel relatives in Lincoln, NE. This was the Henry Vogel family who later moved to Portland, OR.

I learned of the Henry Vogel family from Bill Wiest of Portland, whose maternal ancestors (Buxman) came from Wiesenmuller. I corresponded, too briefly, with Martha Vogel Benson who died last year in Portland, OR. She told me how fun it had been to chatter in German with the little girls, Emma and Marie, when the refugees came in 1923. As far as I know, Emma Vogel Grondona is living (1993) in Oakland, CA.

Until very recently I knew little about the six people on the right-hand side of the photo. Lydia said that (John) George and Henry Fritzler were brothers; Henry’s wife’s maiden name was Vogel; and that Henry and Emma were chaperoning Natalia to America. Natalia was an orphan whose parents died on the way. Lydia did not think that Emma and Natalia were sisters even though a list of refugees on an official list gave “Friedrich Vogel” as the name of their father/fathers.

Now I must digress. Until recently the above information was all I had on these wonderfully brave people. The curiosity began to dim, but not the desire to know more about Wiesenmuller. I kept chipping away, slowly learning about various families from the mother’s village … attempting to find the links that have been lost by the deaths of our old people.

Several years ago, I read in the AHSGR Journal that Alex Schwindt, formerly from Morgantau and late of Germany, had spoken at an AHSGR Convention. He mentioned that he hand worked for three years in a cheese factory in the neighboring village of Wiesenmuller before being deported from Russia by the communists in 1941. I obtained his address, sought help for Jo Ann Kuhr of AHSGR to write a letter in German, to implore Mr. Schwindt to draw a map for me of the village of Wiesenmuller.

Time passed. Eventually he become acquainted with Wilhelmina Greb Stoll who came to Germany in 1987 from Russia. [Ed Note: See Vol 1 No 1 of Jeruslan Nachrichten for more on Wilhelmina] The two developed a wonderful map. My mother’s cousin, Jake Young, who had come to America at the same time as Mom, had drawn a rough map for me. Jake remembered the relationship of the church to the Schafer’s and Jung’s houses, the Jeruslan River, the windmills, the gardens and the graveyard. Lydia had given me some ideas of her memories of the village. Now I had a beautifully drawn map from the memory of a woman who lived there in 1941. [Ed Note: this map is available for purchase from AHSGR]

In the correspondence which followed, I learned that two of my Schafer cousins had married relatives of Wilhelmina. I am currently corresponding with Irma Schafer Treise who lives in Germany, and hope to meet the other - Emanuel Schafer - who has returned to the Wiesenmuller area (Gnadenthau).

I found that I knew many of Wilhelmina’s mother’s relatives (Stuckert), and that Minna’s maiden name (Greb) was familiar to me. She mentioned that the nickname of her Greb family was “Grewejabs.” Could this be Pauline Pinnecker’s fiancé’s family of “Gravenjakob?”

Wilhelmina asked if I might find descendants of two paternal aunts who came to America about 1920. Both were married to Vogels. Maria Katherina Greb married George Vogel while Amalia Greb had married Friedrich(?) Vogel Maria had a daughter Emma; Amalia had a daughter Natalia. No bells rang. Too many Vogels. I didn’t think of the Wiesenmuller picture. The Vogels I knew did not know Minna’s Vogels.

Because thee seemed to be many Vogels in Lincoln, NE, I wrote to AHSGR asking for information about Vogels named as above. I was sent a photocopy of the 1934 City Directory, Vogels buried in Wyuka Cemetery and a 1920 US census showing Henry, Mary, and daughter Salma. This family did not fit with any that I knew.

Then I decided to advertise in the AHSGR Clues. Almost immediately I heard from Helen Fritzler Manbeck who knew all the people involved!

Helen’s parents were Henry and Marie Vogel Fritzler. Natalia was the daughter of Amalia Greb and Friedrich Vogel. Natalia’s father had served as a soldier (probably WW1) and had not returned to Wiesenmuller. The mother, Amalia, three sons and Natalia started out with the refugees toward America. Amalia and the sons died of typhus before they got to Germany. Natalia was placed in an orphanage. The Fritzlers were distantly related to Natalia. She had a sponsor in the US (her aunt Marie, nee Greb and uncle Georg Vogel, who had a daughter Emma, and lived in Lincoln.) The Fritzlers needed a sponsor. So Natalia was saved from the orphanage and brought to America to live with her aunt.

The family of the census - Henry, wife Elizabeth, daughter Salma - was the family of the brother of George Vogel of Lincoln. Henry and George probably came to America together in 1913. This Emma, cousin of Natalia, and also of Wilhelmina Greb Stoll, was born in Libau, Russia.

Natalia married Philip Koch. Presently I am corresponding with her daughter Mary Atkins. Natalia lives with Mary and son-in-law Steve in St Libory, NE.

Emma Vogel Angermeyer lives in England. She was a teacher and has lived in many interesting places in the world. She and her first cousin Wilhelmina are now corresponding.