The People of Pancho

At Play In The Archive

Leo is Confirmed

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.

Leo's Confirmation certificate 2 April 1905

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.

6 comments on “Leo is Confirmed

  1. Amy
    November 20, 2014

    Really interesting. I am curious—you characterized Leo’s family as a German-Jewish family in your last paragraph, yet certainly it seems from everything that came before that they were Lutheran. I know you have evidence that your great-grandmother’s family was Jewish, but it would seem that she and Leo were not identifying as Jewish. Am I misreading this?

    I am sure as a German American family they faced discrimination during World War II, just as Japanese-Americans did. My guess is that German Jews did not face at least that kind of discrimination since certainly no one would have thought they were siding with the Nazis during the war.


    • Pancho
      November 20, 2014

      Hi Amy — I was referring to Leo and Margaret’s little family: he was a German Lutheran, she an Austrian Jew. That’s my hindsight talking, rather than how they would have represented themselves. I probably should have said “German-Austrian” or “Lutheran-Jewish” to be more precise. I know they both had strong ties back to Europe, so the unfolding events of WWII must have been so horrifying to them. Hamburg, in particular, suffered massive Allied attacks during the war because of its importance as a transportation hub. Leo worked for a shipping line, so his job vanished, and according to my mom, he had a terribly difficult time finding work after that. He spoke with a thick German accent, as I recall, which couldn’t have helped at the time. I’ll cover all that in future posts. Thanks for stopping by.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Amy
        November 20, 2014

        Ah, ok—I get it. Like saying a family with one Italian spouse and one German spouse is an Italian-German family. Right?

        Silly me.

        My grandfather sailed from Hamburg in 1904, so it has importance to me as well. I think my great-grandparents did as well, though I’ve have to go back and check.

        Prejudice of any kind is terrible. To associate someone with a particular idea or country or political position because of their name or accent or country of origin is just plain stupid and destructive.


      • Pancho
        November 20, 2014

        Oh, you are so right. And sadly, the human race still has a great deal to learn in this regard.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Leo at the Opera | The People of Pancho

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