Moses Mendelsohn was Ari’s 4x great-grandfather, born in 1856 in Memel. Memel is on the Baltic coast and was part of Prussia until 1923, which is why the family spoke German. It is now called Klaipeda and is in Lithuania. A history of Memel tells us that:
“In 1815 there were 35 Jews in Memel among a population of about 10,000 people. Russian Jews, who came to Memel for their businesses, could not settle there because of lack of prayer houses and other religious institutions which were only allowed for Jews who held Prussian citizenship. As time passed, more and more Russian timber merchants would come to Memel before the High Holidays, staying there until January. They would arrive in the city by carts and even by carriages harnessed to horses, bringing with them cooks and slaughterers, but only for poultry, whereas meat, sheep and cattle would be smuggled in from nearby Lithuanian towns.” (For more information and photos, see the wonderful KehilaLinks page compiled by Eli Rabinowitz.)
The family story told by Moses’ granddaughter Rose was that he had an inn on the border, where people could exchange Russian currency for German. She said that Charles Feinstein (see Murdered for a wedding suit) travelled from Libau in Latvia and stopped at the inn to exchange money. Mrs Mendelsohn (the subject of my post Missing Minna) offered him food, which he refused because he thought it might not be kosher.
That may not be true, but the story we think is true is that LK Hurwitz (see LK Hurwitz and the Raleigh Cycle Co. Ltd) was travelling from Svencionys and stayed at the inn in Memel. He met the daughter of the inn-keeper, Rahle, and they married in 1899.
In 1903, Moses and Minna travelled to Cape Town via Southampton on the ship Doune Castle, travelling steerage with three of their daughters. Before boarding the ship, they stayed for a week at the beginning of January at the Poor Jews’ Temporary Shelter in London (this database can be searched at http://www.jewishroots.uct.ac.za/Shelter.aspx), and see more at this London Metropolitan Archives page).
Moses was only in South Africa for a few months before he died, but we know from estate documents in the South African Archives that he owned Stand No. 77 in Ferreira’s Township, in the mining district of Witwatersrand, valued at £1600. (Gold had been discovered there in 1886.)
He died of emphysema at the age of only 48 on 21 March 1904 in Johannesburg, without leaving a will, and is buried at Braamfontein Cemetery, grave 501. His death notices helpfully list his parents and children:
Records from Memel are held in the Lithuanian State Historical Archives (LVIA), and are still being translated and transcribed by volunteers. Very excitingly, Moses and Minna appeared in a new list released this week. This was a listing of deaths in Memel between 1874 and 1915, which included the death on 23 Dec 1886 of Behr Mendelsohn, aged seven months, son of Moses Mendelsohn and Minna Chatzkelsohn. Moses is listed as a merchant. Another death, in 1889, lists him as the informant and he is recorded as a barkeeper, so maybe the unfortunate person died at the inn. A third record, from 9 Oct 1891, lists the death of another baby son, Benjamin Mendelsohn, aged six months. (For more information about these records, see https://www.litvaksig.org/.)