At Play In The Archive
Here is another installment in the adventures of my great-grandfather Leo Lessiack, more formally known as Franz Georg Leopold Lessiack.
On April 2, 1905, at the age of fifteen, Leo was confirmed in the Evangelical Lutheran faith at a church in the Barmbeck village of Hamburg. I am unable to tell exactly which church from the certificate I have.
It does not seem to be the same church — St. Gertrud — where he was baptized. Perhaps confirmations were performed at a central location, or perhaps the family had relocated by this time. I’ve been unable to find any clues to a residential address in Hamburg for the Lessiack family yet, but I will keep digging.
Barmbeck, according to Wikipedia, was a village within Hamburg until 1951, when it was divided into Barmbek-Süd, Barmbek-Nord and Dulsberg in the borough Hamburg-Nord. Note that great-grandpa Leo’s certificate uses the pre-1946 spelling, Barmbeck.
Family Search offers a helpful overview of German church history, where I learned that Protestantism predominated in the north of Germany, while Roman Catholicism was more common in the south. I was also curious exactly what being confirmed meant in the Lutheran church. According to the website of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America,”Confirmation, which is now commonly called Affirmation of Baptism, is the time when young people declare for themselves that they will live out the promises made for them by their parents and sponsors in their baptism (that is, of course, assuming that they were baptized as an infant).”
Many years later, in 1919, great-grandpa Leo and great-grandma Margaret Spielmann were married in the German Evangelical Lutheran Church in West Hoboken, NJ. This is noteworthy, because I’m reasonably certain that Margaret’s family was Jewish in origin. But later, in the early 1940’s, their son, my grandpa Robert Lessiack, listed his religion as Dutch Reform on his Bucknell University resume. I don’t know for sure why this is, but I suspect that identifying himself as “German anything” might have limited his employment prospects given the rising hostilities leading up to WWII. Grandpa Bob became an officer in the United States Marine Corps Reserves in 1944, but although he spoke fluent German, he served in the Pacific. More on that later.
The terrible employment discrimination my great-grandpa Leo faced during the WWII period will be the subject of future posts, but suffice to say, it must have been an incredibly painful time for this German-Jewish family. (By the way, I highly recommend two wonderful novels that deal with the period: The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich, and The Vision of Emma Blau by Ursula Hegi.)
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Leo’s career is just getting started at this point in the story.