A Berlin Story

Berlin, Germany

August 10 – 13th, 2005


Words cannot begin to describe what an incredible journey and experience this was for me!

I was met by my cousins Paula Steinbeiss and Monika Boerner and her husband Eberhard, at the Berlin train station on Wednesday, August 10th; I was so relieved to see them! Monika is the oldest child of Karl and Ingeborg Spiess. Paula is the daughter of Ingrid Spiess, the second child of Karl and Ingeborg. They greeted me with a welcome sign and a balloon, and Monika and Ebs later presented me with a book about their hometown. We proceeded to the Berlin Hilton where I checked in and we immediately began to review the documents and pictures we had each compiled. We didn’t find a confirmed connection between our families, we would come closer to that days later! However, I truly felt I was connected to these wonderful people. We put the documents aside for a moment and began a walking tour of Berlin. What an incredible city, so filled with culture and history, but I don't want to get sidetracked, that’s a totally different story! We went to an Eastern Indian restaurant for dinner where Doris’ daughter Anne joined us. She was just as nice as the rest! Monika and Ebs had to return to their home several hours away the next morning, and it was sad to have to say goodbye so soon after meeting them. What beautiful people they are; friendly, funny and so very warm. The language was a bit of a barrier, but Paula proved to be an excellent translator and an even better friend! We had an amazing four days together. Ebs loves sports, and if we didn't understand each other, we'd just shout "NBA" or "NHL", no translation necessary!

Thursday morning, I met Maria (Spiess) Wolfgram, her husband Gerhard and their son Dirk. Maria was born in Tulcea, and was on the journey that brought Jakob Spiess and his family to Lager Asten, the resettlement camp in Austria, during the war. Maria is the youngest child of Jakob. She didn’t speak any English, but her son Dirk and Paula again were invaluable in translating. Maria has complied a great family tree, and also brought many original documents that the family had obtained in Romania! Unfortunately none of us know Romanian, so this will be a daunting task. Maria was only 5 when they left Romania, so she doesn’t have a lot of memories from that time, but she did remember being in Asten, and related many stories of this time. In one story, she told how frightening it was because the camp was near a munitions factory, so the allied troops were continually bombing this area. She remembers Jakob saying he had brothers and sisters that immigrated to America, but she didn’t remember any of their names. We had a great morning that continued into lunch, and then they, too, had to depart for home. It was again sad to have to say goodbye to these wonderful people, but we promised to stay in contact.

Once we said our goodbyes to Maria, Gerhard and Dirk, Paula and I literally rushed to the book store to buy a Romanian dictionary and then found a park and began translating one of the Romanian documents. It appears to be a certificate dividing the property of Andrei Tiberman between his children Maria (Tiberman) Spiess, Anastasia, Vasile and Isai Tiberman in 1935. Tiberman, not Zimmerman! So it does appear they may have been Jewish, which explains a lot about the EWZ records! We are still trying to determine when and why her name was changed.

Friday. Where do I begin? What an absolutely incredible day. Paula and I took a 2 hour train journey from Berlin to Eisenhüttenstadt, a wonderful little village southeast of Berlin. We were met at the station by Paula’s mother, Ingrid, the second child of Karl and Ingeborg, and Ingrid’s youngest daughter, Laura, age 5.

We arrived at Karl and Ingeborg’s home about noon, and were treated to the best meal I had the entire time I was in Germany! It was a smorgasbord of pure German cuisine. We had a beef stew served over mashed potatoes, sauerkraut, vegetables, and rabbit with gravy. Yes…..rabbit! Rabbit raised by Karl. It was wonderful.

While we were eating, the rest of the family began to arrive. First was Else Spiess, the wife of Lorenz Spiess, the seventh child of Jakob and Maria. Else is 76 years old and actually arrived on her bicycle! Then came Christel, the sixth child of Jakob and Maria. She is 81. Christel presented me with a wonderful Bavarian tea cup, saucer and plate. Then came Doris and her boyfriend, Frank, Doris’ son Rene and his girlfriend, Frank and Ines and their sons Christopher and Sebastian, Ingeborg’s sister and her husband, and Wolfgang Schultz, the son of Eva, Jakob’s fourth child.

After lunch, since the group had grown significantly, we moved to the garage for dessert and coffee. After that, we went into the garden for a photo session! Then we moved to the patio to begin reviewing all of the documents and pictures.

Oh, how I wish I had thought of a tape recorder for this session. Karl and Christel remember so much about Tulcea, about the trip that took almost a year and landed them in Asten, about the time in Asten, about the journey to Bromberg close to the end of the war, and about the journey from Bromberg to Eisenhüttenstadt, where they finally settled and remain to this day. Unfortunately, they weren’t born until the 1930’s, and my Frederich came to America in 1901, however, they do remember Jakob talking about his brothers that left for America.

From all of the information we shared, the documents we managed to translate and the memories of Christel, Karl and Maria, here is the story of the Jakob and Maria Spiess family:

Sharing our research

Jakob and Maria Spiess were married in 1914 in Tulcea, Romania. Jakobs parents were Johann Spiess and Christine nee Daniel. Maria’s parents were Andrei and Paraschiva Tiberman. Maria had two sisters, Anastasia and Nadia, and two brothers, Vasile and Isai. Nadia drowned in the Danube when Christel was about 10 years old. We found reference in the Romanian documents that Johann died in 1923.

Jakob and Maria had eleven children, 2 who died as infants, and 3 of whom are still living; Christel, Karl and Maria.

Christel and Karl remember Jakob saying that he had brothers and sisters that went to America when Jakob was about 12, so this would have been about 1902, which fits with when Fred, Katherine Helm and William Spiess left Romania. He remembers talk about one of the brothers dying on the ship. This, however, is confusing, because according to Katherine’s death certificate and other references, Fred, Katherine and William’s father was Konrad, not Johann. More research needs to be done here.

Jakob and Maria were very nervous about the events occurring in the world in 1938. Christel remembers her mother going to the church and other places to gather all of the documents she could, because they knew they would soon be leaving Romania. They were promised resettlement in Germany, and were to be given equivalent land to what they had in Romania. Karl remembers an official coming to their home and doing an inventory of their property, and thinks they had about 40 hectacres of land, they lived on Libertinii Street. The value of all of their property was about $750,000 Deutsch Marks, or about $2,000,000 Romanian Lei. About a week later, they left all of their property and personal effects behind and got on a ship that took them up the Danube River through Turkey and the Carpathian mountains. There were about 600 people on the ship. He remembers during the border crossing the ship captain told them all to be very quiet. Karl was 6 years old. They eventually arrived in Bremerhaven, and then Königsburg, where they waited almost 6 months for their luggage. This entire journey took almost a year.

This is where the EWZ resettlement records come in again. In 1941 we find Andreas and Eva in Lager Königsburg, but not the rest of the family. Paula and I theorized that Jakob and Maria sent Andreas and Eva to the camp Königsburg to see how stringent the paperwork/resettlement process was, as Maria may have been Jewish, and they would have been afraid of this process. Then, in 1942, we find Jakob and Maria with all of the kids in Asten, hundreds of miles away. I initially thought the letter Jakob wrote talking about his family in the east was about Andreas and Eva, but Christel said they were all always together, and that Jakob must have been talking about Mathilda, the oldest child, who was already in Bromberg married to her first cousin Hans Spiess! We managed to translate some of the EWZ pages, and the Germans were questioning if they we ethnic Germans, because they didn’t speak very good German, they spoke Romanian. They were, however, all eventually granted citizenship, but were not given the promised land. While in the camp, Jakob did various jobs, and Christel remembers he eventually got a job as a train conductor. Christel and Karl were able to remember a bit of Romanian, and cleared up some of the translation that Paula and I had started. For example, there was mention of an Edward Fix in one of the Romanian documents and we were confused why he would be getting some of Andrei Tiberman’s land, but Christel said that he was a neighbor, and they were saying that Andrei’s land neighbored Edward Fixes. Christel told a funny story about Edward Fix and that Jakob didn’t like him very much. Edward built a big fence outside of Jakob’s window, blocking the view, so then Jakob cut the water line to Edward’s house!

Probably in early 1942, Andreas and Jakob, Jr. left for the war. Further records showed that they were both killed in the war. In 1944, the family all left Asten to go to Bromberg to reunite with Mathilda. When the family left Asten, Jakob remained behind to continue his job and collect his pay. The journey for the family was a difficult one, they took trains and wagons, and even walked part of the way. Jakob didn’t manage to find them for two years! His journey was even more difficult. At one point the Americans took half of his money, and the Russians took the rest. But then he started to speak Russian to one of the soldiers, and they gave it back! He finally got to Bromberg, where he learned that the family had left for Lawitz (near Eisenhüttenstat). He actually walked most of the way to find them. Jakob died in 1965, and Karl and Ingeborg still live on the property they acquired in the 40’s.

I had found another Spiess from Tulcea in the EWZ files, Karolina, a widow. While Christel was talking, she said that Johann’s wife Christine died and he remarried, but she couldn’t remember the name of the second wife. I asked; Karolina? And she said yes!! Paula and I let out a big cheer, and they all thought we were nuts! But oh, how the pieces started to fit together!

Christel also remembers that Mathilida’s husband (and first cousin) Hans Spiess’ father was William, who was killed in World War I. Hans had two sisters, Lydia and Maria. Christel remembers that while in Bromberg, she and Mathilda walked Hans to the train station to go off to the war. He never returned. [Ingrid Vadja tells me he was killed in Minsk Russia near the school of Chechakova].

Wolfgang has a wonderful photo of the funeral of Andrei Tiberman from December 27, 1933 (Maria’s father). Christel and Karl were able to recognize many of the people in the photo. Wolfgang has promised to scan the photo and email it to me.

Everyone thinks the man in uniform on my website is Johann Spiess, and that the uniform is Hungarian.

As Paula and I were getting ready to leave for the train station, Ingeborg packed a big bag of goodies for us, and Frank asked how he could help with the search. I gave him the name of the genealogy library in Leipzig, and told him to try to find an LDS library in Berlin.

As I mentioned earlier, this day was unforgettable, and much too short. What a warm and loving family, and I feel so very blessed to have found them. I was welcomed with open arms, and despite the language barrier, I feel like I’ve known these people all of my life. It was an emotionally draining departure with many hugs and tears, and with promises to stay in touch, and to do everything possible to meet again in the future.

Paula already has plans to meet again with Christel, this time armed with a tape recorder!

Currently, to the best of our ability, we think that Johann Spiess, Jakob’s father, was brothers with Konrad Spiess. The years fit pretty well, but what is confusing to me is what happened to Jakob’s brothers and sisters that came to America around 1901/1902? Why haven’t I found other Spiess’ in the immigration records from Tulcea? Is it possible that Fred’s father wasn’t Konrad at all, but Johann? Therefore Fred and the others would be the lost brothers and sisters? One thing is certain: Paula and I want to take a trip to Romania to get at the church records, as the Romanians still won’t let the LDS staff in to film these records. We will seriously plan this trip when Paula is done with college in a year or two. In the meantime, I am now armed with more information to return to Salt Lake City to re-scour their records. The search continues…….stay tuned!

Paula and I spent my last day, Saturday, exploring more of Berlin. We went to Potsdamer Platz, to the Gedächtniskirche, to the top of the Parliament Building, back to Brandenburg Tor to meet Paula's roommate, and to the new Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. This was a very emotional place, and a fitting tribute to the horrors that occurred during The Holocaust. I had to depart for Munich Saturday evening, and it was heart wrenching to have to say good-bye to Paula. She is the most wonderful person I've met in a long time, and she enriched my trip greatly; it would not have been a fraction as enjoyable without her. Thank you, Paula, and we WILL meet again!


When I returned home from this trip, I read again all of the emails we had sent back and forth over the last year. I found this interesting; Paula wrote to me that Jenny sent her this in a letter: "I would like to mention that my parents [Jakob and Maria] and I lived in Asten, keis Linz, then we moved to Bromberg (now Poland) and then in 1945 we fled to Saxonanhalt, Dahlen in Germany just at the end of World War II. From there we moved to Lawitz, Brandenburg [...]. Later I moved to Australia."

I have also received a lot of correspondence from Ingrid Vadja, the daughter of Mathilda. She also lives in Australia. She migrated to Australia in 1950 with her mother and her step-father, Wassilli Skworzow. I am adding her information to the descendancy chart of Jakob Spiess.


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Descendants of Friedrich Spiess | Family of Konrad and Anna (Putz) Spiess | Family of  Frederich and Ecaterina (Trollenberg) Spiess

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Jakob and Maria (Zimmerman) Spiess - (a mystery no longer!) | Berlin Story | Berlin Photos | Guestbook

Philipina Spiess (the next mystery!) | Martin Area North Dakota Cemeteries