Memoirs – Chapter 1
My father, Hans Wilhelm Weisz , was born in Vienna on June 6, 1890 and baptized on September 16. He was the second of three children, having a sister (Grete) who was four years older and a brother (Emil) who was two years younger. When he was sixteen, after he graduated from the technical high school in Vienna, the family decided that he would amount to nothing staying in Vienna, and they decided to send him to work for his uncle Hans (John Naday) in New York. Uncle Hans had imported some Swiss lace making machinery and had set up a factory to make lace.
My mother, Helene Caroline Kneisel, was born in Dortmund, in the Rhine Valley, Germany, on March 7, 1896. Her parents, Caroline Buschmann and Edward Kneisel were married in 1895. She was the first of five children, followed by Herman (Harry), Eugene, Henry, and Ruth. They came to this country when my mother was about 8, but went back and forth to Germany several times, so she finished elementary school in Germany in 1910.
Dad always enjoyed telling how he met Mom. It seems he met her cousin, a fellow named Hans Vogel, on board a steamship as he was returning to America after a visit to Vienna. They apparently started chatting as they were standing next to each other in the men’s room, aboard the ship. He and Hans became friends and one night, when they were to go out drinking I suppose, Hans Vogel said he had to spend a little time at the Christening of a cousin. The cousin was Aunt Ruth, my mother’s sister and the date would have been late in 1916. He met my mother at that party and they were married by the County Clerk in Manhattan on February 16, 1918.
One time Mom commented on why she married Dad “I observed him and I wanted to have intelligent children.” That choice seemed to have outweighed any shortcomings she may have detected.
Perhaps the name Hans Vogel is familiar, because it was the name that Dad gave to the little toy bird that bobs up-and-down for water. The word “vogel” means bird in German, and Dad thought it humorous to immortalize the friend of his youth by naming the bird after him. Hans Vogel was my mother’s first cousin, his mother Emma being my grandfather Kneisel’s sister. A beautiful portrait of Tante Emma was on the wall in my brother Bob’s apartment. Hans Vogel was an only child, married “Queenie”, and had no children so there were no later generations.
Years later Dad told us that he and Mom would go to the theater and have dinner at the Blue Ribbon Restaurant on 44th street, so at various times thereafter we would go there for dinner, sometimes with him, sometimes without. About 1975 the Blue Ribbon closed and Clare and I went there on its final day as they were auctioning off all the parts of the restaurant. We picked up a few souvenir menus and paper napkins, and were tempted to bid on the oak paneling of one of the small rooms, but didn’t know what we would do with it. I’ve regretted not buying that beautiful paneling ever since.
Dad became an American Citizen in 1912 (July 16, New York City). A few years later, with World War I going on, he was drafted into the U.S. Army on August 8, 1918, six months after getting married, and three months before the war would end. He was sent to Chattanooga, Tennessee where he was a clerk until he caught the flu, and got pneumonia. He went to the hospital and was given up as hopeless, but somehow he survived and was discharged at Camp Dix, New Jersey on January 4, 1919. For the rest of his life he was always to have problems with his lungs, including a moderate case of emphysema in later years. Of course his smoking right to the end must also have contributed to the problem.
About a year after Dad left the Army, on March 6, 1920 my brother Bob was born.
The war with Germany was over, but prejudice against people with German origins continued, in fact I was to feel a small amount of that years later, as a child and as an adult. With those feelings around, my father decided to change his name from Hans Weysz to John Worthing. When I was about twelve years old I discovered his name change documents under a drawer in his dresser. John is the translation of Johann (which in German is shortened to Hans) and Worthing was picked from the name of the main character in Oscar Wilde’s play “The Importance of Being Earnest”. In fact the main character is, at times, called John Worthing, and at other times, Ernest Worthing. I am surprised that I was not named Ernest. A few years later his brother Emil came over from Vienna and also took the Worthing name.
I was born on August 11, 1924 in the house we lived in at 353 Avenue O, in Brooklyn. I remember nothing of the occasion. The house later had a fire and everything that my parents owned, except the contents of one steamer trunk, was lost. Ever after, everything of true importance was stored in that trunk.
For family history before my parents see the various books in the appendix.
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