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The Billsteins of Ruelfenrod, Hesse-Darmstadt

Updated March 11, 2010

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Short history of the Jews in Ruelfenrod:

Ruelfenrod is a small farming village that was controlled by the baron Schenck of Schweinsberg from the 17th Century. The total population of Ruelfenrod was only about 150 at this time, but it had its own garrison, drill-ground and small but well fortified castle. Ruelfenrod is located between Alsfeld which is slightly to the North East and Frankfurt to the South.

In 1650 there was one Jew living in Ruelfenrod, his name was Mannes. In 1701
there is one “Jewish man” mentioned in a list, but in 1704 four families lived
in the small village. The names of the men were Wolf, Sandel, Michael and Joseph.
Wolf and Sandel left the village around 1720. In 1740 the only Jewish family known to live in Ruelfenrod was Zandell. He lived at Ehringshauser Straße 24. This house
was owned by Jews until 1856.

The birth registers of Ruelfenrod begin around 1782. Only children of Levi Meyer (LEVI) and Alexander BILLSTEIN appear in these registers. The records also reveal that both fathers were “shutzjude” or protected Jews. As many German towns exacted protection money from Jews in order to control the size of the Jewish population, it is likely that there were other siblings who moved elsewhere.
According to LEVI family members their family originally lived in Ehringshausen, located a short distance from Rülfenrod. The registers show that both Moses and Meyer gave their names as "BILLSTEIN" in a register entry around 1800. This date seems rather early, but it confirms that the LEVI family and the BILLSTEIN family were related.

About 1832 the Jewish cemetery was established by Baruch Billstein and Eisemann LEVI, the last burial took place in 1915. When the LEVI family left Germany, the cemetery was sold to a Christian farmer and most of the cemetery was plowed under in 1941. After World War II two gravestones were found. One belonged to Eduard Levi and the other was for Levi Levi. These two tombstones were then moved to the cemetery.

A family history was recorded by Rena Froehlich around 1930. This is her account of how Alexander Billstein was given his name.

" All German families were ordered to take surnames around the turn of the nineteenth century. The head of the family would be sent to the office of the burgomaster, whose duty was to bestow these names.
On a certain day, Alexander was summoned to his office. But, as he was ill that day, he could not appear. So, the burgomaster proclaimed that he shall be called "BILLSTEIN" after a nearby mountain.
A legend woven about this mountain relates how a Count Billstein was exiled to its top by his enemies. Although guards were stationed around the mountain to prevent his escape, friends managed to sneak him food and provisions for a time. When this was discovered, the count and his family boarded the royal carriage and made a desperated attempt to dash down the mountain where he met his demise. From this source, we are told, the Billstein name originated".

In 1845 there were 19 Jewish children attending the Christian elementary school and
many of their houses were owned by the local landlord, Schenk of Schweinsberg.

In the mid 19th century most of the Billstein family left Ruelfenrod for America.
After 1859 the Jewish community was so small that the last three families ;
Simon Billstein, Loeb Levi and Levi Levi were assigned to the one in Nieder-Gemünden.

In 1971 Ruelfenrod was combined with six other small villages into one large town. It is called "Gemuenden".

Family Photos
  • Jennie Friedberger Goldmith family of Philadelphia (40 KB)
    Jennie Friedberger Goldsmith (1866 - 1933), Henry Goldsmith (1893- 1963), Edwin F. Goldsmith Jr. (1893 - 1963), Cecile Goldsmith Simsohn (1892 - 1946), Miriam Lazarus Friedberger 91870 - 1942), Ethel Marie Friedberger Mann (1902 - 1924)
  • Berg Billstein (300 KB)
    This is Berg Billstein in Ruelfenrod, Hesse-Darmstadt, Germany. According to legend, our surname was derived from the name of the mountain.
  • Billstein Family Tree (4101 KB)
    27 Page Graphic Billstein Family Tree
  • Thelma Billstein Coy of Norwalk, Ohio (5 KB)
    Thelma was the daughter of Marcus Billstein and Elnora Tracy of Norwalk, Ohio and her grandfather was Moses Billstein. She was born September 11, 1895 in Norwalk, Ohio. Her first husband was Hugh Wilton Coy and her second husband was Martin P. Zink. She died March 11, 1976. She had no children.
  • Children of Moses & Esther Billstein (88 KB)
    These are the children of Moses Billstein & Esther Simson which was taken around 1888 in Toledo, OH. From front to back and left to right appear; Alfred, Ben, Milton and Edith.
  • Dr. Emma L Billstein (31 KB)
    Emma was the daughter of Alexander Billstein and Louisa Loblein. She was born in Sandusky, OH on July 24, 1855. She was educated in Maysville, KY and Philadelphia. She received her medical degree in 1892 from Women's Medical College in Philadelphia. She died in Baltimore on December 20, 1914.
  • Moses Billstein (58 KB)
    This is Moses Billstein. He was born in Ruelfenrod on March 2, 1846. He immigrated to the US in 1854 on "The Clio". He married Esther Simson in Philadelphia, PA in 1878 and owned a wallpaper and paint store in Toledo, Ohio. He died in Toledo on June 19, 1916.
  • Nathan Billstein of Baltimore, MD (170 KB)
    Nathan Billstein was April 1859 in Sandusky, OH. He was part owner of a publishing Company known as Billstein & Sons in Philadelphia. He also was the business manager for the Jewish Exponent Newspaper. He moved to Baltimore in the mid 1890s where he was Vice President of the Lord Baltimore Publishing Company. Later he was co-owner with the Dalsimer family. Nathan died in Baltimore on Nov 1, 1931.
  • Alfred Billstein with his fleet of Rent-A-Cars (110 KB)
    Alfred Billstein was born in Toledo, Ohio on July 13, 1885. Around 1919 he started a rent-a-car business that was said to be the first of its kind east of the Mississippi. This is Alfred with his Model T's around 1919 in downtown Toledo, Ohio. Alfred died in Toledo on January 5, 1976.
  • Leo Billstein - born 1868 Maysville, KY (47 KB)
    Leo Billstein was the son of Nathan Billstein and Louisa Loblein. He had a son Ralph Wilton and a wife Mary. He lived in Philadelphia and died around 1908.
  • Tijuana, Mexico 1922 - Do you know these people? (105 KB)
    This photo which was titled "The Folks Out West" depicts Edith Billstein with probably relatives who lived in the Los Angeles area. Possible surnames of these individuals might include; Baum Bauman, Rothchild, Scheuer or Schwarts. Please contact me if you recognize anyone!
  • Aaron Billstein born ca 1871, Maysville, KY (35 KB)
    Aaron Billstein was the son of Alexander Billstein and Louisa Loblein. He was the twin brother of Albert K Billstein. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia with a Medical Degree. He practiced medicine in Baltimore, MD and later joined his brother Nathan's publishing business. He died in Baltimore, MD on Nov 15, 1933.
  • Family of Robert and Marian Billstein - 1992 (132 KB)
    Front Row: N Fridrick, K Fridrick, D Billstein, M Akaha, Y Akaha 2nd Row: B Billstein Fridrick, R Billstein, Marian Speirs Billstein, Florence Loftus Speirs, Janet Billstein Akaha 3rd Row: T Fridrick, S Billstein, R Billstein Jr., L Roberts Billstein, D Billstein, and TAkaha.
  • Anniversary of Belle & Leo Polacheck (267 KB)
    25th Wedding Anniversary of Belle & Leo Polacheck * June 6, 1908* Belle was the daughter of Alexander Billstein of Neenah, WI. The Polachecks lived in Chicago, IL.
  • Family of Stephan Billstein (25 KB)
    S H Billstein, S A Billstein, MD., L HBillstein, B O Billstein, B Hirsch Billstein & S Hooper Billstein. S Billstein is the son of Sanford Billstein and grandson of Simon Billstein. Simon was born in Germany and came to Cleveland, Ohio around 1897. Sanford's grandfather was probably Baruch Billstein, but it is unclear which son is Sanford's father. According to Rülfenrod birth records, Sanford's father was probably either "Salomon" or "Saleman". But Sanford recorded the name of of Simon's father as "Selig" on Simon's death certificate.
  • Henry Friedberger & Caroline Billstein (ca 1864) (14 KB)
    This is the wedding picture of Henry Friedberger (1830 Ichenhausen, Bavaria, Germany - 1886) and Caroline Billstein (17 April 1845 Rülfenrod, Hesse-Darmstadt, Germany). Caroline was the daughter of Moses Billstein and Theresa Ortenstein.
  • 1880: Lipman Billstein's 80th Birthday (266 KB)
    Lipman Billstein(ca 1801 -1891 Plymouth,OH) with his wife Bründel Fröhlich and more than 50 of his closest relatives including; Aaron, Bachrach, Glick, Shield, Froehlich, Kappenberg, Spear, Schoenberg, Summers, Spitz, Sonn, Baum and Berkenruth.
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