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Gerald Weiss Family Collection

Identifier: AR 25393

Scope and Content Note

This collection documents the personal experiences of the Weiss family members during their flight from Germany around 1939, their emigration to various countries including the United States, England, Holland, and Israel, and their later restitution claims. Also included are documents concerning the disputed inheritance of Hermann and Carolina Michel née Frank and the efforts of Jacob and Josef Weiss to create or restore family gravesites. The bulk of the collection consists of correspondence concerning personal, business, and legal matters. Family trees, translations of family correspondence, legal documents, vital records, passports, immigration documents, and a few photographs are also included. Of particular note is Gerald Weiss' "From the Edge of the Abyss: Family Letters 1940-1946" which contains translations of family letters, a detailed narrative of the family history of the Weiss, Falk, Michel, and Lieben families, a glossary of terms, and genealogical tables reaching back to 1710.

Many of the materials in this collection are very fragile. Pieces of some of the letters have already disintegrated, causing a loss of some of the content.


  • Creation: 1921-1999
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1938-1960

Language of Materials

The collection is in German, English, French, and Dutch.

Access Restrictions

This collection is open to researchers.

Access Information

Readers may access the collection by visiting the Lillian Goldman Reading Room at the Center for Jewish History. We recommend reserving the collection in advance; please visit the LBI Online Catalog and click on the "Request" button.

Biographical Note

This collection documents the experiences of the Weiss family with a focus on the parents of Gerald Weiss, Jacob Weiss, his wife Selma née Falk, and their siblings.

Jacob (alternatively Köbes) Weiss (1883-1965) was born the second of nine children to the cattle dealer Albert Weiss (1851-1927) and his wife Mathilde Amalie née Michel (1856-1920). His siblings were Siegmund (1882-1940), Arthur (1884-1968), Jetta (1886-1969), Rosa (1888-1969), Minna (1889-1966), Sally (shortened from Salomon, 1891-1979), Josef (alternatively Jupp, 1893-1976), and Emma (1895-1985). The family lived in Kirchheim and later Flamersheim, small villages near Cologne.

During World War I, most of the men in the Weiss family served in the German army, some earning an Iron Cross and Jupp rising to the level of a sergeant. After World War I, Siegmund, Jacob, Sally, and Josef moved to Cologne, where Siegmund and Jacob founded S & J Weiss, a bed linen manufacturing business.

Gerald Weiss (alternatively Gert) was born in 1922 to Jacob Weiss and his wife Selma née Falk (1889-1968). His sister, Margaret Weiss (alternatively Marga), was born in 1924 and died in 2012.

As the situation worsened for Jews in Germany, the Weiss family members began preparing to emigrate. Jacob and Siegmund Weiss smuggled money from their business out of Germany. This required falsifying records, which their Christian bookkeeper Maria Wischerhoff kept secret as well. In 1936, Gerald was sent to a high school in Nyon, Switzerland, near Geneva, to escape bad treatment in his German high school. The property and assets of S & J Weiss along with the Weiss family home were forcibly sold.

During Kristallnacht, Jacob Weiss was arrested, imprisoned at the Brauweiler prison, and then sent to the Dachau concentration camp. He was released under the condition that he and his family leave Germany as soon as possible. They immigrated to the Netherlands in December of 1938, where they stayed in a refugee camp until they could procure visas to enter the US. They arrived in the United States in November of 1939.

Other members of the Weiss family stayed in hiding in Holland and France during the duration of the war. Six family members were sent to concentration camps at Bergen-Belsen and Theresienstadt. While five survived, Erna Weiss, Jacob Weiss' sister-in-law, perished shortly after liberation from Bergen-Belsen.

From the 1940s to the 1960s, Jacob Weiss filed several restitution claims, concerning damages to his property, his professional advancement, and his freedom, as well as claims concerning life insurance, the cost of property storage and insurance, the cost of emigration, the interruption of education for several family members, and damages to the goodwill of the company S & J Weiss. These claims were almost all successful. Jacob Weiss was also successful in gaining money lost in the forced selling of the family home in Cologne.

Several other Weiss family members also filed claims for restitution and recovery of lost real estate including Selma Weiss, Minna Sachs née Weiss, and Josef Weiss, and the heirs of Siegmund Weiss on his behalf. Most of these were also successful.

From 1995-1997, Gerald Weiss collected and translated letters from his family members that document their experiences from 1940-1946. These can be found alongside his introduction, notes, commentary, glossary of terms, and family trees in his self-published “From the Edge of the Abyss: Family Letters 1940-1946,” included in the collection. The original letters are also held in this collection.


1.25 Linear Feet


This collection documents the history of the Weiss family with a focus on Gerald Weiss’ parents Jacob and Selma Weiss née Falk and their siblings. Jacob (alternatively Köbes) Weiss (1883-1965) was born the second of nine children to the cattle dealer Albert Weiss and his wife Mathilde Amalie née Michel. As a young man, he lived in Cologne and started a bed linen manufacturing business, S & J Weiss, with his brother Siegmund. As the situation for Jews in Germany worsened in the 1930s, he and Siegmund smuggled money from the business to banks in Holland to aid in the Weiss family’s emigration. Jacob Weiss emigrated with his wife and children in 1939 and settled in New York. This collection contains family trees, family correspondence, translations of family correspondence, vital records, immigration and naturalization records, correspondence and legal documents concerning restitution claims, correspondence and legal documents concerning the estate of Hermann and Carolina Michel née Frank, and correspondence and photographs concerning family gravesites and the restoration of a Jewish cemetery.


The collection is arranged into six series which remain close to the original order that existed when Gerald Weiss donated the collection. These series were determined mainly by the topic to which the materials relate. Subseries were created where it was determined to be of assistance to distinguish among the many claims made by various family members. Some family correspondence found in Series I relates to many of the themes in other series. This is especially the case with the correspondence between Jacob and Josef Weiss, which tends to include personal family news as well as content related to every other series.

Digitization Note

The collection was digitized and made accessible in its entirety.

Related Material

Gerald Weiss also donated the diary of his cousin Jacob Müller (1894-1967) which recounts the experiences of a German Jew in hiding in Amsterdam during World War II. It can be accessed in digital format via the LBI Archives: ME 1028.

A note from Gerald Weiss in the collection indicates that some of the original letters in his “From the Edge of the Abyss” that are not included in this collection can be found in the Ghetto House Archives.

Processing Information

Gerald Weiss' "From the Edge of the Abyss" and accompanying family trees originally constituted their own collection at the LBI Archives, AR 10648. These materials were integrated into the more extensive materials that he donated in 1998 because of their shared content and creator.

Metal fasteners and tape were removed where they were damaging the collections. Correspondence was taken out of envelopes, and the envelopes were discarded unless they contained addresses or names not otherwise included on the letter itself. Materials were flattened.

Guide to the Gerald Weiss Family Collection 1921-1999 (bulk 1938-1960) AR 25393
Processed by Leanora Lange
© 2012
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Processing made possible by the Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives Grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources through The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support "Illuminating Hidden Collections at the Center for Jewish History. Digitization made possible by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

Revision Statements

  • January 13, 2014: finding aid edited.
  • April 2015: dao links and digitization information added and folder 42/45 numbering fixed by Leanora Lange.

Repository Details

Part of the Leo Baeck Institute Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States