I have treated the Rochs family story as if it were clan history, believing that its mythic value was more important to my development than the facts themselves. My father’s taciturnity with respect to his more prominent social background makes such a line of reasoning tenuous with respect to his side — but the facts are of interest and they still have relevance to uncovering the domestic culture of the household I grew up in. Papa was as taciturn about his background as my mother had been exuberant and most of what I know came through her or have learned later in life. I don’t know why this silence but I suspect that his youth had been unhappy and, by the time I knew him, his own career was a great disappointment. It may also be in part that he did not want to continue the stigma of being Jewish, inasmuch as he had been baptized as a Christian and had none of the public aspects of Judaic culture. There were no yarmulkes or mezuzahs, bar mitzvahs nor visits to the temple, and only much later did I learn that such artifacts existed. I do think some of the covert attributes of Judaic culture were there, such as the imperative for being successful and respect for learning, and were part of my cultural heritage. It is not that papa denied this Jewish background, for there is no ambiguity about this heritage in the fragment of memoir that he wrote, which I saw only after Tex died, which Tex had himself never seen.1 It is a fascinating, beautifully written 18 pages that demonstrates an erudite, sentimental German, with words in German, Spanish, Latin and some French and references to current literature and 19th century music. It also reveals a man who is painfully aware of not having fulfilled what he thinks his parents wanted of him, and certainly not what he wanted to have become. This I had been aware of, yet it was painful to read and feel his pain.
Mother had never met any of his family until she visited Germany in 1929, long after all of papa’s generation were dead and only some nieces remained. I met these first cousins when in Germany in 1954 and was delighted to learn of kindred whose nobility was inspiring. One was the widow of a World War I casualty and the other her old maid sister, the daughters of a medical doctor. Descendants of apostate Jews, they were involved in the underground during the Hitler era until they were arrested by the Polizei. The officer recognized the name of Preetorius and discovered that these were the daughters of the doctor who had saved his life as a child. He let them go with the admonishment that he could not do it a second time. Much later, I met another member of my paternal clan, a second cousin whose father had immigrated to Belgium and taken on the hyphenated name of Goldschmidt-Clermont. This cousin Paul was an engineer with special professional interests in welding. He had been a member of a group of men who were secretly planning for the social welfare protection for Belgian youths who had been taken off to Germany by the Nazis. What was to become of them when they were to return after the war? There is a plaque on the church in the village where they met in Paul’s summer home to hammer out post-occupation policies without Nazi knowledge – it was not on his house because his wife did not want the place to be a museum. Because of my father’s silence about his background, these stories had no direct influence on my psyche as a youth. They do give me a sense of pride now, bespeaking an old family tradition of moral probity and social conscience.
Some of the Goldschmidt ancestry is discussed in papa’s memoirs. He gives genealogical data that starts with the recognition of knowing nothing prior to his grandparents’ generation, saying he supposes their parents had been “itinerant Jewish trades people, socially and politically beyond the pale of the law.” His grandfather was Hyem or Heyman, born in 1802 and married to Jeannette Hernsheim, the daughter of a well-to-do family from Alzey, a small town near Mainz. Papa describes them as struggling with a small lumberyard in this small town, failing to note that his grandmother belonged to a large and prosperous family that had become Protestant. They had eight sons, among whom my grandfather Max was the eldest. I have a lovely pastel portrait on paper painted in 1837 when he was but three years old, done by an accomplished artist, I judge, and not by an itinerant amateur. I dare not take it from its frame, as it is badly cracked, but a carefully left window in back gives dates and other information. Papa also tells of his father’s description of a rather idyllic childhood, with classical music and reading Goethe and other classics aloud in the parlor or garden, depending on the season. All this does not square with the neediness that inspires the grandparental Horatio Alger myth that follows.
According to papa’s document, after finishing his schooling, his father went to seek his fortune, vowing to help his impoverished parents educate his young siblings, and landed his first miserable apprenticeship as a result of an incident that seems stolen directly out of Horatio Alger. It goes like this: walking away after being rudely dismissed by the distant relative from whom he was seeking employment, he stooped to pick up a pen he saw on the floor and put it on a nearby desk. This display of virtue led the bluntly dismissive relative to reconsider, and gave Grandfather Max his first miserable apprenticeship. After similar acts of virtue and gentle derring do, he got to Monterrey, Mexico, where he was taken on as the leader of an itinerant trading convoy in the backwoods of northern Mexico by other distant relatives. His rise over the next fifteen years in the business world was spectacular and he turned over a thriving corporation of which he was sole owner to some of his brothers and returned to Germany to retire as a wealthy man. He had, earlier, returned to Germany and picked up a bride belonging to the very large and prosperous and aformentioned Hernsheim family and my father was the middle of their three children, born in Mexico. Max and his bride were cousins, for papa’s maternal grandmother was also a Hernsheim.
Let us look briefly at these double ancestors. Papa lists and identifies most of this ancestry; it is studded with enough prominent names of the day to make a boy want to brag about his background, had he only known it. Papa starts with a Mendez who he identifies as “an immensely wealthy banker in Amsterdam and Frankfurt am Main” who married “a Venetian girl of an old family” named de Texeira. Among the 18 children she bore was a daughter named Sophie who married a Jurist in Mainz named Ludwig Hernsheim, whose daughter, Julia was papa’s mother. Ludwig also had a sister named Jeannette who had married Max’s mother, as already noted. As I was not told these stories as a child but learned them only after I had spent a lifetime examining social behavior, they do not form part of my mythology and I find them useful only in illuminating the man who was my father, who was so enigmatic to me and who I will later discuss in some detail.
Meanwhile, Julia had two brothers, who were both prominent pioneers in South Seas exploration. I have in my files a manuscript copy of a memoir written by the younger brother, Eduard, whose tale also has a bit of Horatio Alger in it.1 I learned by happy accident that it has, along with other papers, been published in English.2 On the first page he says: “My parents had joined the Protestant church and my father was one of the foundation members of the first Lutheran congregation in Mainz, a Catholic town.” It was in speaking of this at a symposium on Boas that I learned from Paula Rubel and Arthur Rosman, who were participants, of the English version. (I had mentioned this ancestry to demonstrate my personal awareness of the dynamics of the apostate Jewish culture for I was saying that to understand the special genius of Boas, you had to appreciate this cultural background. Having done research in Melanesia, Paula and Arthur had a copy of the book.) Papa, of course, knew about this Christian involvement; indeed, I have learned from some of Tex’s reminiscences that papa was himself christened as a Lutheran and therefore the family was heavily assimilated to Christianity. Significantly, papa says his father wanted to name him after his grandfather with the traditional Jewish Hyem but was dissuaded by his Lutheran-Jewish wife and accepted the phonetically similar German, Hermann.
Eduard’s older brother, Fritz, came out to the South Seas and served as German consul in Jaluit and wrote, and illustrated with hand-tinted steel engravings, a beautiful little book about the culture of the Micronesian islands.1 Both brothers retired with wealth and proselytized for the development of colonies in the South Pacific, resulting in The Bismarck Archipelago getting that name. In Eduard’s memoir there are some off-hand comments about the Goldschmidt who married their cousin, along with fascinating discussions of the trade with the natives as well as the rivalry among the traders. The bit that both interested and appalled me was that tobacco was introduced to make up for the disinterest the natives had developed in trading for the redundant pots and trinkets. Eduard set up schools to teach the Islanders how to smoke to instill a motive for producing more copra. That game started a lot sooner than I realized and to an anthropologist this is a little like finding a horse thief in the family tree.
Max Goldschmidt had brought his family back to Germany when papa was about four years old and so he was raised in Germany and went through Gymnasium. He had an unhappy childhood and felt he was an unwanted child, for he had been sent, for reasons I don’t know, to live with Tante Binche in Darmstadt and later, when in Gymnasium, was overshadowed by a younger brother who apparently excelled in academic studies and later become a doctor. Papa claimed to have been an indifferent student but he was well educated in the then excellent German Gymnasium. He had mastery of four languages and his fluency in writing English — the third language he had mastered – is impressive. His self-effacing remarks seem as exaggerated as his flowery descriptions of his father’s exploits. At any rate, while his brother, Eduard, became a successful doctor, papa went into business in emulation of his father. He started several enterprises both in Germany and in Mexico, none of which seemed to have taken hold despite his apparent nepotistic advantages. His last move in the entrepreneurial world was to come to San Antonio at the age of 35 or 36 to establish an importing enterprise.
There are some interesting parallels between the Rochs and Goldschmidt clans. One is the odd religious symmetry. Just as mother had come from an apostate Lutheran family, so my father had come from an apostate Jewish family. But while mother flaunted her anti-religious sentiments, my father’s attitude could be summarized in his one comment on the matter “everybody’s religion is his own business.” I remember no instance in which he expressed anything about what he himself believed. There were neither religious artifacts from either side in our home nor any visit to a church, unless you count a few abortive efforts to go to the Unitarian church for the sake of socialization. The fragment of papa’s memoir speaks of the Jewish past but makes no reference to the conversion, which I learned about from his uncle’s memoir, nor of his own baptism – but then his memoir stops short at the time of his birth. I did not find it surprising that he could not face the ignominies he felt about his childhood.
Another parallel of interest is that they each had an involvement with what one might call the edges of anthropology: Opa Rochs with his philology doctorate; my father’s uncles Franz and Eduard Hernsheim in their involvement with the South Seas, as well as his father’s pioneering involvement in Mexico and my father’s continuing fondness for things Mexican. There was a tradition of cultural relativism on both sides.
Amusingly, my wife Gale’s family shows the same predilections. Her father was mustered out of the army at the close of the Spanish-American war while in the Philippines and stayed to become a lawyer and later a judge there. Her mother had gone to the Islands as one of a group of teachers organized by Colonel Barrows to introduce American educational practice into the Filipino schools. They married there and Gale was born there and they left only after her father was passed over for Governor of the Islands when Taft was defeated by Wilson in 1912. Gale added, with understandable pride, that her father tried to apply native laws to cases he tried as a circuit judge in the Philippines.