German/Herman Family

Rokiskis SIG member Ada Gamsu, of Johannesburg, South Africa, received an email from her second cousin’s son, Zalman Jaloveckis, originally from Vilnius but now living in Leipzig, Germany, telling her about an article written in Lithuanian by the Rokiškio Krašto Muziejus (Rokiskis Regional Museum). This article is about Tonya Herman’s family from Rokiskis (Tonya is a second cousin to both Ada and Samuil, Zalman’s father).  Through Tonya’s daughter, Zehava in Israel, Ada was able to get an English translation and with permission of all involved, Ada gave it to the Rokiskis SIG to include on their website.

The family name is Herman or German, depending on the translation from the original Cyrillic.  They were a prominent family in Rokiskis and this article tells their 20th century story.  You can find the original article at the Rokiskis Regional Museum website.  But thanks to Ada and Sarah Mei Herman, the granddaughter of Mordehajus Herman, we can read the English version of the article and see all the fascinating photos.


From the Past of the Photography - the History of the German Family

Dalia Kiukienė, Deputy DirectorChief Funds Curator, Rokiškis Regional Museum

In the beginning of the 19th century photography was invented and the news about this invention quickly spread all over the world and came to Lithuania as well. Most part of the photographers in Lithuania were Jewish and this is evidenced by the telephone numbers of Rokiškis telephone printed in that time Lithuanian telephone subscribers’ book. The Jewish nationality of the photographers could be noticed in the stamps on the photographs stored at the Museum funds. These photos depict that there were quite many great photographers, who used to take portraits, towns and buildings in their photo studios using different decorations. The photographers also traveled to the cities or villages to capture the moments of various celebrations and occasions of Lithuanian people. However, a lot of Museum photos don’t have author mark on them, so a lot of the authors are unknown.

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Photographers Stamps
Photographers Stamps
herman3 The envelope from the studio of photographer L. Vinokuro

 The names of the following photographers were known in Rokiškis at the beginning of the 20th century up to the World War II : Ch. Šneidermanas, L. Vinokuras, F. Chonas, M. Germanas, O. Čadovičius (he was known in Pandėlys town).



The hotel Europa in the Nepriklausomybės (Independence) Square. The photo studio Naujiena (News) operated on the ground floor of this building.

The photograph, made at the photo studio Naujiena. The market in the Nepriklausomybės Square in the 1920's.


The photo studio “Naujiena” (No. 18/5) and “Renesans” (No. 24) operated in the Nepriklausomybės Square. The firm “Naujiena” belonged to Izaokas Klingmanas. He sold photo cameras and also taught people how to use them. This firm also made prints of the city view photographs. There were more enterprises located in the same building: the hotel “Europa”, food and grocery shops.

The Mordechajus Germanas’ photo studio was located at No. 3 Kamajų / Respublikos street. Next to it at No.5 there was another photo studio which was owned by Leiba Vinokuras. One more photographer Jokūbas Skrinskas from Marijampolė often visited Rokiškis.


                        Kamajų / Respublikos street around 1931-1932

The old Rokiškis photography has been explored too little. The museum stores only limited and fragmented archival material on interwar photographers, and the number of people who can remember that period is notably decreasing. When the Second World War began, some Jews departed, others were killed. The website of the World Holocaust Remembrance Center (yvng.yadvashem.org) shows and reminds us Rokiškis photographers - Vinokur (born 1886), Klingman, Jehuda and Solomon Herman (Germans), Sara Finkel (born in 1906 in Rokiškis, lived in Utena) and Reizl Shneiderman from Rokiškis. The fates of Ch. Finkelis and Ch. Šneidermanas are unknown but on the website mentioned Sara Finkel and Reizl Shneiderman most likely were the family members of these photographers.

In 2014 Rokiškis Regional Museum published the catalog Rokiškis in 1914-1940 photographs. During six months the entire edition (400 pcs.) was sold and distributed. The preparation and photo research of this publication gave the start for collecting information on the photographers of Rokiškis county. After the publication of the mentioned catalog, we collected the data on two Rokiškis photographers - M. Germanas and J. Masiulis. There was no information about German’s life, except that his name began from the letter “M”.

Museum collections are announced not only through publishing, but also on the internet –the virtual exhibitions have been prepared and the exhibits have been uploaded to the museum's digital library (to LIMIS system). The photographs, which were uploaded on the internet, attracted the interest of Lithuanian people, but also caused great foreigners’ interest. Among the foreigners, who interested in Museum photographs is the Dutch photographer Sara Mei Herman, the granddaughter of Rokiškis photographer Mordechajus German (1901-1985). Arriving to Rokiškis in 2015 she brought a collection of family photographs, most of which was created at the German photo studio.


 Dutch photographer Sara Mei Herman (in the center) in Rokiškis regional museum 2015-11-04

The work, which began with the preview of several photographs, has grown into a research of one Jewish photographers’ family life. Within two years of correspondence, the history of the Germans family was restored from puzzles. It was learned that two of the brothers in this family were photographers. It is believed that the third brother could be also a photographer.

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Reistel  Germans , 1930s. (from Julijan Herman's personal album)

Dovydas Germans (from Julijan Herman's personal album)
Germans‘ family. Caption pending

Brothers Germans: Front row, l to r: Judelis and Isakas
Back row, l to r:
  Mordechajus, Saliamonas and Jakovas. 1934. Photographer Germanas, Rokiškis. (from Julijan Herman's album.)

At the end of the 19th – the beginning of the 20th century Dovydas (David) and
Reistel (Rosa) Germans lived in Rokiškis. Dovydas worked as an agent (maybe trading agent). They had six children: the sons Saliamonas (Solomon), Isakas (Itschak), Jakovas (Yakoov), Mordechajus (Mordechai), Judelis (Jehuda) and a daughter Bela (Bella). There is no information about the daughter, only a few photographs have survived with her image. Probably she became the victim of the genocide.

At the beginning of 1930s R. and D. Germans and their son Judelis moved to Kaunas. In 1934 their names were entered to the lists of Kaunas city voters. Saliamonas and Mordechajus stayed in Rokiškis for a short time. In 1941 we can find names of Dovydas German and Reistel Germanienė included in the electoral district list for the last time (these lists were compiled in 1940, as the preparation for the elections to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR). Dovydas and Reistel were murdered in Kaunas in 1941. Isakas, Jakovas and Mordehajus escaped the Holocaust by emigrating before the war. In 1920s Jakovas went to Switzerland to study medicine. He became a psychiatrist and stayed there to live.


Employees of Jewish Bank in Rokiškis. Saliamonas Germanas, the third row the first on the left.

The eldest son, Saliamonas (1895-1945), worked at the Jewish Bank in Rokiškis. He and his wife Rosa Macyte had two children: a son Maiklas (who was born in 1927 in Rokiškis and died in 2004 in New York) and a daughter Tonia (who was born in 1925 in Rokiškis). The family moved to Tauragė in 1930s, later settled in Kaunas. Saliamonas was preparing for a new accountant work. Soon he and his parents were forced to reside in the Kaunas ghetto, later he was sent to do forced labor in Spilva camp (Latvia). Saliamonas was separated from his family for 3 years. At the same time his wife Roza and two children fled to Šiauliai and there entered the ghetto. At the end of the summer, 1944 Saliamonas returned from Spilva. A few days later Šiauliai ghetto was liquidated and all people were sent to Štuthofas (Stuthoff) concentration camp (Poland). Before coming to Štuthofas men and women were separated. Saliamonas and his son were taken to Dachau concentration camp (Germany). Roza and Tonia stayed in Štuthofas. Saliamonas died in 1945, i.e. 3 months later after Dachau liberation. He was buried in Gautingas, near Miunhenas. In 1989 his remains were reinterred by his family in Tivon (Israel). Saliamonas’ daughter Tonia is currently living in Israel. She gave a lot of information about Germans’ family life.

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Saliamonas’ grave in Germany. Tonia and her husband Chanoch Levin are standing next to the grave. (from Tonia Levin's personal album.)

Saliamona‘s daughter Tonia. 2016.
(from Tonia Levin's personal album)

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Mordechajus Germanas in Lithuanian army soldier uniform. Around 1922. (from Julijan Herman's album)

Mordechajus Germanas. 1927. Rokiškis. (from Julijan Herman's album)

Mordechajus (1901-1985) is one of the most famous photographers in Rokiškis. He lived in Rokiškis and had there a photo studio at No. 3 of Kamajai / Respublikos street. The German’s company was registered on behalf of Reiza Germanienė (most probably on behalf of Mordechajus’ mother or of his sister in law). The museum stores over 30 photographs with German’s stamp on them. The shape of the stamp was changing. Most of the survived stamps are oval with the record in it: "Fot. Germanas Rokiškis " (Eng. Photographer Germanas Rokiškis”). The museum has only a few samples of rectangular stamps with the record: "Fotografija GERMANO Rokiškis" (Eng. Photograph of Germanas Rokiškis”).

The surviving photographs disclose the images of Rokiškis gymnasium pupils, Rokiškis postal employees, The Monument for Independence, portraits of people, holidays and events. Apparently, not all photographs were stamped. The museum has several identical photographs, some are stamped, the others have no marks.


Mordechajus with his wife Bela. South Africa. (from Julijan Herman's personal album)

Mordechajus in clothes cleaning workshop (Pietermaritzburg, South Africa). (from Julijan Herman's personal album)

Due to that time difficult political and economic situation Mordehajus went to South Africa around 1935, where his older brother Isakas had been living. At that time it was believed that South Africa was a good place to live and work. In order to avoid serving at military service Mordehajus changed his date of birth in his documents from 1901 to 1904 with the help of his brother living in Switzerland.    Mordehajus and Isakas first of all settled in Durban, later in Pietermaritzburg. There Mordehajus worked as a photographer like in Rokiškis times and later opened a clothes cleaning workshop. In addition, he had another hobby - he liked playing violin. This is evidenced by the surviving photographs. Around 1940 he married Bela. In 1942 they had a daughter Estela, in 1944 the son Džuljanas (Julian) was born and in 1945 the son Dovydas (David) came to this world. In 1974 Džuljanas moved to Amsterdam. His daughter Sara Mei Herman continues family traditions -she is a Dutch photo artist. In 2018 the Rokiškis Regional Museum plans to arrange Sarah Mei Herman’ photo exhibition with dedication to the memory of the German’s family.


Judelis and Bela. 1926. Rokiškis. (from Julijan Herman's album)

Judelis‘ wife Šeina with a newborn girl. 1937. Photographer J. Germanas, Kaunas. (from Julijan Herman's album)

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Judelis with his wife Šeina. 1934. Kaunas. (from Julijan Herman's personal album)

    Šeina‘s and Judelis‘ daughter Merelė. 1939. Kaunas. (from Julijan Herman's personal album)

The younger son of German family Judelis (1907?-1944) also worked as a photographer. Mordehajus was the teacher of photographic craft for Judelis. It is known that they together drove along Rokiškis county, stayed at inhabitants’ homes and took photos there. In 1920 both brothers worked in Kamajai (Rokiškis district). Later Judelis together with his parents moved to Kaunas and in 1934 there he opened his photo studio. It is known that he was engaged in making photographs until the 8th October, 1940. This is evidenced by the Kaunas city Tax inspection work file, created on the 27th December, 1938 and completed on 8th October, 1940. The following address of the company was written in the documents: Savanorių pr. 134, Kaunas. The company operated from 1934, it had no employees and the owner worked there alone. In 1939 the company had a cash income of 2460 Litas. The museum has some photos with the stamps, where the other address was indicated - Ukmergės pl. 48, Kaunas. In 1938 Ukmergė pl. (road) was named by Savanorių prospect.


Judelis was married to Šeina (Schoenele) Levinaitė from Kupiškis. After becoming an orphan, Šeina grew up in Rokiškis children's shelter. During the Second World War Judelis family lived in of Kaunas ghetto. Eight year old daughter Marele was murdered in Kaunas together with other Jewish children. The wife got into the Štuthofas concentration camp. She survived. Judelis became a victim of the genocide in 1944.

It is likely that the second son of the Germans family Isakas could be a photographer. According to memories of relatives Isakas went to Durban in South Africa in 1926-1927. After a couple of years, his wife Rasel Levinaitė together with her daughters Zelda (Zelde, born in 1924 in Lithuania) and Sonia (Sonje, born in 1926 in Lithuania) went to Isakas place Durban. In 1931 in South Africa they got their third daughter Phillis. Isakas worked as a watchmaker in Africa. Two photographs with I. Germanas stamps (Ukmergės pl. 48) pose a question for us -if Isakas was really a photographer? Maybe the letter "I" was only a printing mistake? Maybe Isakas opened a photo studio in Kaunas earlier than his brother Judelis? It could be supposed that later Judelis used his brother’s stamp. Maybe it's only Judelis’ trick? In this photograph there is captured Judelis’ wife and Judelis’ sister Bela imitating Judelis himself – she is in man’s clothes.

Judelis’ wife Šeina and Judelis’ sister Bela imitating  Judelis himself – she is in man’s clothes. 1935. Photographer I. Germanas, Kaunas.
(from Julijan Herman's personal album)

In the life of these mentioned people there still remains a lot of ambiguity, silence, uncertainty. I hope that the fate of one described family will be able to disclose the life of the Jews better, and will contribute to the study of the history of photography.

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