The Sinking of the ZamZam

by Victoria Hirschland Hess — comment added Feb. 6, 2012

The story of the Zamzam and how six-year-old Peter Levitt, his sister Wendy, and their mother Kathleen (nee Hirschland) survived its being shelled and captured by a German Raider in 1941 could be just another sad WWII story. Yet our cousins survived the sinking and the almost a year and a half of imprisonment afterwards, finally traveling from Liebenau, Germany, to Palestine, as part of a prisoner exchange, and eventually to a delayed reunion with their father and husband, Lionel Levitt, in South Africa. Continue Reading

The Lusitania

Contributed by Joan Meijer, granddaughter of Franz Hirschland, Oct. 15, 2010

In late April 1915 Franz Hirschland (Papa) was having lunch with a business associate. The paper was folded back either to an advertisement for the sailing of the Lusitania or an article warning that the Lusitania was carrying arms for the British war effort and therefore fair game for German U-Boats. Those warnings were appearing more and more often in the American press.

The two began to converse about the Lusitania and the yellow journalism surrounding the reporting on Germany in particular. During the conversation the associate said, “I have a friend who is shipping picric acid (an explosive somewhat like TNT) on the Lusitania.” Papa said that the conversation just glossed over the sentence.

Two weeks later, on May 7th, the Lusitania sank within sight of land off the shores of the Old Head of Kindsdale, Ireland, In 18 minutes 1,198 of the 1959 people aboard died.  America exploded with anger and headed for war (though it took them some time to get there). Continue Reading

From Records to Revolution

by Victoria Hirschland Hess — Added March 6, 2011

Frits Hirschland, 1988, Bern

Frits Hirschland, 1988, Bern

In the last minutes of 1986, my boyfriend and I returned early from our New Years Eve outing and the phone was ringing. It was a Frits Hirschland, calling from Amsterdam. I have never heard from him or of him before, and in fact, had not at the time known that Hirschlands still lived in Europe, having survived the war there. I still believed the family myth that my grandfather, Franz, had saved the entire family, while those who told that story were really talking only of our branch of it.

Frits was obviously quite drunk, and surprised that he had found me home, since it wasn’t yet midnight in Washington. He said he had looked through phone books, found my name, knew we were related, and decided to call and wish me a Happy New Year. We went through the “are we related” dance, and he debunked the family myth. I had the impression that he had not yet slept that night, though it was almost 6 a.m. in Amsterdam. Continue Reading

A Close Pre-WWI Escape

Contributed by Joan Meijer, Granddaughter of Franz Hirschland, Oct. 15, 2010


In 1914 Franz (Papa) and Gula (Gonny) Hirschland took one-year-old Richard (Dick) to Essen to visit the family. With them were Susan Anderson (Omi) and Mary Sheridan (Nana to Richard and Herb). At the time Papa was President of the American branch of Goldschmidt Detinning – a recycling company that separated the tin out of tin cans so that it could be reused.

Franz’s Lineage
  1. Salomon Herz Hirschland (one of the three original brothers)
  2. Simon Hirschland
  3. Isaac Hirschland
  4. Franz Hirschland

Franz (seated) and Friend in uniform.

War was in the air and the family and friends were urging Papa and Gonny to leave. Papa was conflicted. He was the highest ranking Jew in the German Army and he felt that he had a responsibility to honor his commission. One morning in September, Mr. Goldschmidt asked Papa to accompany him to the local constabulary. The head constable showed Papa a telegram from the Kaiser (Papa’s father had been decorated by the Kaiser by the way). The telegram said, “All German nationals who wish to leave the country should do so immediately. The bluffing is over.” If Papa stayed, he not only would have been trapped with his family, but he would have had to fight. Continue Reading