Hillinger Family History

After I posted my first Brick Wall post, my father sent this letter on to me. I do vaguely recall something about it. We got an email from someone from Belgium whose family surname was also Hillinger, and they wanted to know if we might somehow be related, given the fact that the surname is fairly uncommon outside of Austria.

Grumpy wrote this in response, and I don't remember reading this then, but it's truly a wealth of information, particularly the information about a WWI detention camp called Camp Douglas. I'm uncertain how much of this he knew for fact and how much he simply assumed, given how little information we actually have on his family.

At any rate, I share this with you today, so you can see one of my two main sources of knowledge about this branch of my family tree.

March 19, 2000

Dear Sharon,

My son, E, forwarded your e-mail to me and asked that I respond and pass on what I remember of family history.

I cannot tap a vast storehouse of family lore. My father was no chatterbox. His preoccupation with earning a living kept him from being close to his children. He was a good father, but we only saw him on weekends. His brothers and sisters lived far from where we made our home – they in London and the United States and we in Germany, at least until mid-1933. They were simply not available to add to our knowledge of the family's origin.

Here is what I do remember… My grandfather on my father's side was Leon Seneft. My father's mother was Mindel Hilinger. Both died before I was born. My father's name at birth and until 1919 was "Alec (or Alex) Seneft." My father's parents and siblings migrated to London from Poland sometime in the 1890's, probably at the beginning of the pogroms in Russia and/or Poland. I do not know the name of the Stetl they came from. My father was born in 1883 and would have been 7 years old, or older, when he arrived in London. He remained in England until 1919. He, and thousands of other immigrants from Eastern Europe who had not obtained British citizenship by the time the Great War commenced, were treated as enemy aliens because they came from countries that were in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, England's enemy. They were fated to be confined as prisoners of war throughout World War I, in Douglas, or Camp Douglas, on the Isle of Man, not far from Belfast, Ireland. Not too many years ago, at Whistler-Blackcomb, a ski area in Canada, I sat next to a skier who was visiting from the Isle of Man. He confirmed that Camp Douglas was put to the same use during World War II to house Britain's so called "enemy aliens."

From some photos I have my of father and fellow prisoners they do not appear to have been ill-treated. One picture shows them dressed in fashionable, smart-looking suits. In another snapshot they appear in clean work clothing.

When the Great War ended Britain's enemies were transported to the Continent. My father came to Frankfurt/Main in the year 1919.

My father met my mother in Frankfurt in the year he arrived. She and a sister decided there was more to life than living in a Polish Stetl and in 1919 also came to Frankfurt/Main.

Frankfurt appears to have been a magnet and destination for a large number of Jews even before 1914. I do not have a clue how large the community was. I do know by 1933 it had grown to over 31,000. There were some magnificent synagogues, a Yeshiva and a combination grade and high school that accommodated over 1,000 students, founded in 1809, and called Die Philantropin, which my brother, sisters and I attended until we left in mid-1933.

Sometime in 1919 a blockheaded German concluded because my grandparents had not obtained a valid marriage license issued by a city or state, the marriage was invalid and the children of that union were illegitimate. The marriage was valid under Jewish but not German law. My father was forced to assume his mother's maiden name of Hilinger or Hillinger, and never again used his former surname, Seneft, after 1919.

My father, like many who came from Poland, tried his hand at a number of different business ventures. At one time or another he had an interest in a motion picture theatre, a jewelry store and a Kosher restaurant – all in Frankfurt. The restaurant was the last venture and it was not profitable. By mid-1933 he had nothing left to show for his efforts. He had also made some enemies among our Nazi neighbors and wisely decided the time had come to get out of Germany. He preceded my mother, brother and sisters to Paris. France, too, was not kind from an economic standpoint. I am sure we would have gone hungry if not for the Jewish welfare agencies. We remained in France about 14 months, in Fontenay-sous-Bois, not far from the Charles de Gaulle Aeroport. In August, 1934, the Hillingers sailed for the United States, where they reside to this day… Of six children my mother gave birth to in the years 1920 through 1931, two have died. The three sisters who are still alive live in Chicago and/or suburbs of Chicago – their names are Minna, Peppi and Selma. Selma, the youngest, divides her time between Chicago and Israel. She is the keeper of the family archives and the only one who has a handle on names, birthdates, etc. of my grandparents. She is currently in Israel but will be back in mid-May to begin planning the wedding of the last of her 4 daughters.

I returned to Europe (England, France and Germany) during the "Good" war, in 1944 with the US Army. Ironically, I ended up in Frankfurt/Main and remained there from 1945 to 1950. I married a lovely US born Dane in 1947 [ed: actually 1948], and we were married in the same city office where my parents got married. Before coming to Frankfurt I was stationed in Verdun – from September, 1944, until May, 1945. I occasionally wandered into Belgium. I was not in combat. My work was administrative, as an interpreter stenographer. I switched to civilian status in December, 1945, but remained with the same organization in Frankfurt, in the north end of the city, in the IG Farben Complex.

E, whose Web page you are familiar with, was born in Frankfurt, in 1949, in a US Army Hospital. He had dual nationality – US and German – and renounced his German nationality when he went to work fro Boeing.

Except for a couple of years in Columbus, Ohio, where I completed work on a college degree, we have lived in Seattle since 1952. My wife of 51 ½ years came from Cleveland, Ohio, which at one time was a grimy smoke-belching industrial city. I had lived a short time in Chicago and my loathing for that city equaled my wife's dislike of Cleveland. We wanted to get away from smoke stacks and find some lovely scenery and good weather.

The scenery, climate and ambience of Seattle are everything one could wish for. Just last week one of the lifestyle magazines named Seattle the third most livable city in the US, only Washington, DC, and Salt Lake City, Utah, ranked higher.

To get back to the Seneft-Hillingers in London, my father had two sisters and two brothers that I know of. The two sisters came to the United States, quite early in (the) last century. Annie (Seneft) married a man named Moshe Wolf nd lived and died in Memphis, Tennessee. The second, named Jennie, married Moshe Hirsch, lived in Little Rock, Arkanasas, most of her life, but returned to London a few years before death. Both Annie and Jennie died childless.

One of the brothers, named Jack, came to New York. I have no idea when. He never married, and died in New York. I met him once, when I arrived from France, in 1934.

The second brother remained in London and became the parent of several sons and one daughter. Possibly as many as three of his sons died in war or as a result of wounds sustained in World War I. Only one of his sons was still alive in 1948 when I honeymooned in London. This son had no children. The daughter, named Kitty, married a man named Solomon (surname), had two children, a son and a daughter. I met them in 1948. The son, named Ivan, moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, about 160 miles north of here. I have visited him several times. He is now about 56 years of age. His sister who lives in London I believe is a couple younger.

The family names in your message, other than Hillinger, do not ring a bell. I do not remember hearing those names and if I did, I have forgotten them. It is easy to be forgetful when reaching 78 years of age.

My own father died in 1947, and my mother in 1967. None of the original Senefts survives.

As you pointed out, there are skads of Hillingers in Austria but few elsewhere. Some time ago, E heard from a doctor in either New York or Chicago with the name Hillinger who had found E's web page and looked into a family connection. E found a Café Hillinger in Vienna on the internet. The name also came up in a recently published movie with reference to an Austrian farmer. It certainly is not a very common name elsewhere.

It would be of interest to me if you discover that your family and mine were related in the dim distant past.

Sam Hillinger


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About this blog

This blog is maintained by two sisters who have had a life long interest in geneology.
Mika writes here mostly about our family (Hansen, Hillinger, Bordewick, Park, etc), and her search for more information.
Shannon mostly uses this space as a place to make the many stories written about and by her husband's family (Holly, Walker, Walpole, etc) available to the rest of the family, present and future.

Our blog is named Oh Spusch! mostly because Shannon is bad at naming things. The first post I put up includes a story about the time Walker's great grandfather took his whole family out to see a play and the littlest kept saying "Oh! Spusch!" No one ever figured out what she meant by that.