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Werner and Vera Gamby Family Collection

 Collection
Identifier: AR 25617

Scope and Content Note

The Werner and Vera Gamby Family Collection centers on the immigration of Werner and Vera Gamby from Hamburg to New York as well as on the immigration of Vera Gamby's parents and the attempted immigration of Werner's mother, aunt, and other family members. The collection also contains documentation and research on family genealogy and photographs of family members' pre-war lives. The collection includes correspondence, photographs and photo albums, official documents, family trees, and unpublished manuscripts by family members.

The bulk of the collection concentrates on the successful emigration of Werner and Vera Gamby and Raphael and Erna Cohn, but also on the unsuccessful emigration and eventual deportation of Camilla Gembicki and Toni Kemlinski. Werner Gamby's interim stay at the Kitchener refugee camp in England is well documented in his correspondence with Vera Gamby in Subseries 2 of Series I, as well as to others in the correspondence of these months. Letters to Vera throughout Series I mention her brief stay in Holland and her first months in New York, where she initially stayed with her sister's family and later worked as household help in New Rochelle while waiting for Werner to join her in New York. Subseries 2 of Series I also holds the correspondence of Camilla Gembicki and between Werner and his aunts in Switzerland, which documents the family members' efforts to get Camilla out of Germany along with her sister Toni Kemlinski and her grandchildren, Herma and Gerd Schwab, and their eventual deportation to Riga. Further documentation relating to immigration and deportations will be found among the official documents of family members in Series II as well the papers of Series III, which focuses on this topic. Of particular interest in Series III is an unpublished manuscript by a family member regarding the deportations to Riga, combining family letters with published accounts about the Riga ghetto, theorizing what the deported family members' last experiences may have been like. Series III additionally includes documentation used in their emigration or first years in the United States as well as photographs and a newspaper clipping from Werner Gamby's time there.

Genealogical information, including family trees for various branches of the family as well as narratives, will be found among the papers of Series II. This series additionally holds family papers that provide documentation of aspects of family life prior to leaving Germany. Photographs of many of the family members encountered among the genealogical documentation is present in Series IV. This series includes photo albums in addition to many loose photographs. Among the albums are photos and notes on trips taken by Werner Gamby during the 1920s and 1930s.

Dates

  • 1885-2013
  • Majority of material found within 1939-1945

Creator

Language of Materials

The collection is in German and English.

Access Restrictions

Open to researchers.

Access Information

Collection is digitized. Follow the links in the Container List to access the digitized materials.

Use Restrictions

There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection. For more information, contact:

Leo Baeck Institute, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011

email: lbaeck@lbi.cjh.org

Biographical Note

Werner Max Gembicki was born on November 25, 1915, the son of Ludwig and Camilla (née Kemlinski) Gembicki. He had a sister, Lizzie, who was twelve years older than him and a brother, Siegfried, who was sixteen years older.

Werner attended the private Bertram School in Hamburg until 1927 when he began attending the Gelehrtenschule des Johanneums, from which he received his Abitur in 1935. Although he originally wished to study law and become a diplomat, that path was impossible for him once Jews were forbidden to attend university. He then found a position working for a Jewish import firm for leather and fur. During the 1930s he also met a young woman, Vera Cohn, while playing tennis.

Vera Cohn was born on June 15, 1915 in Frankfurt am Main. She was the daughter of Raphael and Erna Cohn and had an identical twin sister, Ilse. Raphael Cohn had served in World War I and in 1934 received the Ehrenkreuz für Frontkämpfer. The Cohns had moved to Hamburg after the years of inflation had disrupted the family's finances. Vera Cohn had wanted to study architecture, but after the ban on attending university she attended a secretarial school instead. On April 9, 1937 she and Werner married. On August 8, 1937 their son Peter was born.

The day of November 10th, 1938 Werner was arrested while at work. He spent the next six weeks in the concentration camp Sachsenhausen. On December 21, 1938 he was released from the camp under the stipulation he leave Germany. With the aid of the Hamburg Jewish Community he was able to enter the Kitchener Camp for refugees in Kent, England, where he stayed from July 1939 through April 1940.

On November 22, 1939 Vera Gamby and her son Peter sailed from Rotterdam for the United States along with her parents, where they joined her sister and brother-in-law who had immigrated earlier in New Rochelle, New York. Vera Gamby found a position in domestic work in a private household, with Peter staying with her parents. In May 1940 Werner arrived in New York as well.

In his first years in the United States Werner held various jobs, including in a cleaning facility, as a truck driver, as a sorter of skins in a slaughterhouse, and as a packer of women's scarves, until he eventually found a position in an import firm as a clerk in the marketing department. Coincidentally, the firm was owned by the same man in whose household Vera worked as housekeeper.

Camilla Gembicki and her sister Toni Kemlinski still remained in Hamburg. Werner's sister Lizzie had died in 1937, and his niece and nephew Herma and Gerd Schwab were also still in Hamburg with their grandmother. Although Camilla and Toni, having been born in Strasbourg, would have come under the French quota for visas, the children did not. Werner wrote to various agencies for assistance in their emigration, as well as Camilla's sisters in Switzerland. Although his aunt Jenny Marx cabled him that they had finally been sent Swiss permits at the end of December 1941, Camilla, Toni, and the children had been deported to Riga, Latvia several weeks earlier.

In 1945 Werner and Vera received American citizenship and changed their surname to Gamby. During the 1940s they had two more children, Dorothy Lizzie and Monica Camilla.

During the 1940s Werner tried to find out if his mother, aunt Toni and niece and nephew had survived their deportation, but on a trip to Hamburg in 1948 he received confirmation that they had not. He later visited Germany several times with his family. In 1968 the Gamby family moved to Mamaroneck, New York.

Werner worked for decades in the textile import industry. He established his own firm, W. Gamby & Co. He often traveled for business, including to the newly-founded State of Israel in 1948 and to China in 1972.

Werner Gamby died in 2014, Vera Gamby in 2011.

Extent

1.75 Linear Feet

Abstract

This family collection primarily focuses on the immigration of Werner and Vera Gamby from Hamburg to New York. In addition, it documents the immigration of Vera Gamby's parents and the attempted immigration and later deportation of Werner's mother, aunt, and other family members. The collection also contains documentation and research on family genealogy and photographs of family members. The collection includes correspondence, photographs and photo albums, official documents, family trees, and unpublished manuscripts by family members.

Processing Information

During processing of the archival collection it was arranged into series and subseries.

Creator

Title
Guide to the Papers of Werner and Vera Gamby 1885-2013 AR 25617
Status
In Progress
Author
Processed by Dianne Ritchey
Date
© 2016
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Edition statement
This version was derived from Werner_and_Vera_Gamby_Family.xml

Revision Statements

  • October 31, 2016.: Edits made to biographical note.
  • January 2017:: dao links added by Emily Andresini.

Repository Details

Part of the Leo Baeck Institute Repository

Contact:
15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States