Who was Sally Rehfisch? – Tombstone Tuesday

Sally, his wife Julie, and eldest daughter, Herta.
Sally, his wife Julie, and eldest daughter, Herta.

This headstone is in the Weissensee Cemetery in Berlin, Germany. It helped me solve a long term question of mine, who is Sally Rehfisch? Or more specifically, what was Sally Rehfisch’s gender.

I must give credit to a fellow Jewish Genealogical Society member, Bert de Jong, for helping me find the answer, plus a whole lot more. Bert, who lives in Amsterdam, claims he’s been photographing headstones since he was twelve years old. In 2012, his hobby took him to the Weissenssee Cemetery where he photographed hundreds of headstones in answer to numerous requests from members of JewishGen, including myself.

The results were overwhelming for me because I not only found the answers to my Sally Rehfisch question, but learned that the Jewish burial ground is a final resting place for many ancestors of mine on the Rehfisch side of my family.

Aron, Max and Caecilie Rehfisch
Caecilie, Max and Aron Rehfisch

For you genealogists* out there, in addition to Sally Rehfisch, and the three listed above, whose headstones were found, (Caecilie, Max and Aron Rehfisch**), also buried in the Weissenssee Cemetery are the following:

  • Irma Rehfisch
  • Margarethe Rehfisch
  • Siegmund Rehfisch
  • Hedwig Rehfisch
  • Otilie Rehfisch nee Lipschuetz

But getting back to my search, my mother’s maiden name was Rehfisch. When she passed away in 1998, I found a few old letters of hers that she’d kept in a box. But since they were hand written in German I wasn’t able to read them. So, I filed them away for the time being. But then I discovered that she’d also left me many family photo albums. That’s when I really got the urge to find out more about my family, and to learn about all the nameless faces that appeared in those photos. I assumed that many of them were relatives and possibly even close family members – the ones who I grew up knowing nothing about. (see “The Day I Learned I was a Jew“)

But I wasn’t sure how to identify them unless maybe those old letters of Mom’s might possibly contain some answers. Although that would require someone to translate them, which was long before I joined the Jewish Genealogical Society with it’s access to ViewMate and the many members who could translate old German “Suetterlin Schrift”.

Nevertheless I did have access to the internet and was able to find a German woman in Kansas who could translate the letters and help me begin the rudiments of a family tree.

One of those letters was from Mom’s grandfather, Isidor Rehfisch, written in 1917, near the end of WWI. It was addressed to his daughter-in-law, Bertha Rehfisch, my grandmother, and described what was essentially a family reunion, reuniting five of his six grown children. Since Bertha and my grandfather Louis, were not able to be there, Isidor sent her the letter to recap what they’d missed.

From his description I learned that four of the siblings were males, named Berthold, Albert, Max and Leopold. Two of them were currently on leave from the war and the German army at the time. But the fifth sibling was always referred to as Sally. Not knowing any better, I assumed Sally was a woman. Since the name was usually combined with another diminutive, “Julchen”, who I assumed was someone’s little girl. Trying to build a scenario, I thought possibly that Sally and Julchen were Isidore’s daughter and grand daughter, that they were mother and child.

Since my translator in Kansas couldn’t solve it either, I didn’t learn the truth for more than a decade, until I finally got the Weissenssee information from Bert de Jung. That’s when I realized that my earlier assessment could NOT have been more WRONG! Sally was a really a HE.

Isidore actually had six sons and Sally was one of them. Also in the German Army, he too was on furlough from the war. But he also had the good fortune of being reassigned from his battalion on the front lines to a new post with the Army Finance Office in Berlin. And “Julchen” was not Isidor’s grand daughter after all, but Sally’s wife, Julie.

But what had made it so difficult to identify Sally’s gender for such a long time was the fact the he never ever used his real given name, which was Salomon. Whether or not it was because he felt it was too Jewish, there’s a certain irony to it since he was able to maintain his nickname even in death, as public records and even his grave marker continue to identify him as “Sally Rehfisch.

Although Julie Rehfisch’s name appears on the tombstone under Sally’s, along with their eldest daughter, Herta, neither of the two women are buried there. Their names have only been placed there in tribute since, sadly, both Julie and Herta perished in Sobibor in 1943. This may have been added after WWII by Sally & Julchen’s youngest daughter, Margot, who survived the war in the Netherlands.  Sally passed away a decade earlier in 1933.

* If any of you genealogists are interested in researching the Weissenssee Cemetery for other burials, Bert de Jong provided me with a spread sheet containing nearly 7,500 names of folks interred there. If you contact me through my website, I’d be happy to email you a copy. It’s in Excel.

** Max was Sally’s brother. Aron (Eugen) was the son of Caecilie nee Adam and Joseph Rehfisch.


10 thoughts on “Who was Sally Rehfisch? – Tombstone Tuesday”

  1. Otilie Rehfisch nee Lipschuetz (1828-1903) was the daughter of Lieb Lipschuetz and (not sure) Heilbron of Posen. Her death record is on Ancestry.com, and it looks like she was married to Eduard Rehfisch.

    • Hi, and thanks for your comment. Yes, Eduard Rehfisch was married to Otillie Lipschuetz/Lipschitz. But so far I’ve not found a connection to my end of the Rehfisch family.although I know his father was Heymann Rehfisch, born ca 1795 in Rawicz, Posen. My Heilbrun/Heilbron information is limited, although I just received some new additions to the Rehfisch’s, although not yet digested

  2. My own great-grandfather was named Selly Hein, Pete. I have always assumed that Selly was a diminutive for Salomon, but his headstone actually says Selly.

  3. Hello Peter!!
    Another great post. That grave looks so similar to the one I’m searching for. My great uncle, Karl Frey. It has his birthday and death. But lists his wife Klara Frey as just a name below his. “Im Tode Vereint” reads the sad epitaph. I would give anything to find that grave but I’m doubtful it still exists. It is so cool also that I have an g-aunt Erma, grandma Ottilie and ggrandma Hedwig. Are we related? 🙂


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