Expulsion From Paradise at Transfer Day
This unusual headline I used for one chapter of my family history that I've been writing for the last few years (1).Without this expulsion, I probably would have been born a native of St. Thomas, albeit with Scandinavian-German roots. The Danish side of my St. Thomas family can only be traced back to 1808, not as far back as is the case with Mr. Lynch's illustrious family. However, this particular branch of my family tree was radically cut short due to the political change brought about by Transfer Day. And so, because of the military and political climate of the time, I was born in Hamburg, Germany and live near Kiel, not far from the well-known town of Flensburg.
My intention was not to embark on an intense genealogical study; my ancestors had all been documented back in the late 1930's by one of my great-uncle's for a reason I'm embarrassed to admit: during the Nazi regime, my father was ordered to deliver an Ariernachweis to become a officer in the German Air Force. This meant that he had to prove that he had no Jewish blood. This turned into an unexpected problem. Who exactly had been my ancestors in the Danish West Indies?
The Christensen Family
My first ancestor in the Danish West Indies was the family patriarch, Hans Christensen, who was born on Sept. 15th, 1840 in Ordrup near Copenhagen and came to the Danish West Indies in 1862 as a soldier of the Danish crown to serve his king and country. He subsequently became Chief of Police, bought up large tracts of land. At the turn of the century, he purchased the old, mid-town Commercial Hotel for $10,000 and rebuilt it into today's Grand Hotel; he also founded the St. Thomas Lumber & Trading Company. Hans married a local woman, Caroline Frederikke née Block or Bloch (February 20, 1853 - April 24, 1920), whose origins were murky. Hans died on February 20th, 1911 on his wife's birthday.
Hans and Caroline Frederikke raised a large family of six children. The first-born son was the well-known Dr. Viggo Christensen (1875 – 1948), a physician who never married and never had any children. After the transfer of the islands, Viggo was instrumental in renaming the islands the U.S. Virgin Islands. I collected more information about him (1) and Jan Tuxen wrote an article (2) about Viggo regarding an interesting Danish letter I found among the many documents I inherited. Their second child was Sophia (1878 – 1961), who married Hans Hoyrup. Their third child was my grandmother, Ella (1883 - 1953), who married Julius Adolph Jochimsen, a German national. Their fourth child was Ludvig (1885 – 1960).
Ludvig became an important business leader in St.Thomas and the patriarch of his own large family that remained on the island. At the age of 14, he went to work in his father's lumber business and eventually became its sole proprietor. However, for 41 years, he had a varied career working as a banker as Vice President and Director of the Virgin Islands National Bank and at a bank in Copenhagen, Hotel Manager, land owner, dairy farm proprietor and ship owner (6). Incidentally, in 1998, when my wife, my children and I visited St. Thomas, we met Ludvig's daughter, the late Doreen Christensen Cole and her family at an inspiring picnic lunch at the beach.
Hans and Caroline's fifth child was Anna (1888 to 1951) who married Franz Flint, another German national who also worked for the Hamburg-America Line alongside my grandfather. Sadly, Franz Flint died an untimely death during the typhus epidemic of 1915, leaving Anna a widow. Left with 3 girls to support, Anna moved to New York. One of her daughters, Elsbeth, became my American 'umbilical cord' in the postwar period. Through my connection to Elsbeth, I received gifts in the form of candy, clothes and dollar notes!
The sixth Christensen child was Halvor Emil, whose family lives in North Carolina. From this great-uncle I got my Norwegian first name.
|Ella Julius Anna Franz Caroline: Ella and Julius|
on the left, Caroline is
Ella's mother with unknown origin
My Danish grandmother, Ella Maria Christensen, was born on St. Thomas on October 3rd, 1883, and married Julius Adolph Jochimsen on October 4th, 1911 in the city of Hamburg which required taking an arduous round-trip steamer voyage. Jochimsen had come to St. Thomas in 1905 to work as a chief clerk in the office of the Hamburg-America Line (HAPAG). Surviving photographs testify that Ella was a beautiful young woman. The Danish painter, Hugo Larsen, painted her portrait in 1907 during an extended stay in the Danish West Indies (3) which now hangs in my livingroom.
The problems for my father's conscription in the German Air Force began because there are no documents on record regarding Caroline's parents and their ethnic origins. This lack of knowledge gave rise to speculations within my family that she had been an orphan or the product of an illegitimate union. My aunts had even heard of an embroidered crown in diapers! In photos, Caroline had somewhat darker skin, a deep tan, which two of her granddaughters – my aunts - inherited, giving them a not very Danish appearance. I always speculated that Caroline was born of a union between a Danish man (Bloch or Block) and a darker-skinned, possibly Jewish woman. But all this is mere speculation. Anyway, as I previously mentioned, Caroline's missing family lineage became a huge problem for my father when he was compelled to prove his pure Aryan lineage. To fix this dilemma, Julius came up with his own clever solution by asking one of his former colleagues on St. Thomas to write a letter testifying that "Caroline was born out here and did not show the slightest sign of being of Jewish descent".
|Julius Ella Theo Kristin: Theo is my father|
Julius Adolf was born on February 17th, 1881 in Hamburg (Germany) to a middle-class piano maker and a mother with Dutch roots. By the age of 15, he was apprenticed to a now-defunct German shipping company named Kingsin-Linie which was later bought out by HAPAG. He worked his way up the ranks, was intelligent, hard-working and talented. He became interested in the Shipping Line's Far East Department and was charged with supplying coal to the Russian fleet during the Russo-Japanese war, most notably during the Battle of Tsushima (1905). After his move to the Danish West Indies in 1905, Julius was promoted to the position of Managing Director of the HAPAG office in 1913, and later was appointed German Consul in 1914 by Kaiser Wilhelm II.
The Hamburg-America Line had been established in 1847. The steamship line wasn't an initial success due to the economic and political situations in numerous Central American countries; however, twenty years later, they opened up service to St. Thomas and made Charlotte Amalie it's headquarters in 1873. Over the years their facilities grew to include a coaling station, docks, piers, warehouses and water supply. In 1911, the modern concrete office building at Kings Wharf was erected. Jochimsen and his family, which included my father Theodor and 2 sisters, moved into the HAPAG-owned house at #32-33 Kongens Gade. This house was later named "Quarters B", but sadly burned down in 1988. When we visited the site we saw the ruins of the once-beautiful house of my family photos. The house and its social life were the subject of many newspaper articles (4).
My grandmother often spoke English, English-accented German, but never Danish. After Germany declared war against Great Britain, she avoided English altogether. During my childhood in Hamburg, my grandparents often reflected about their years on St. Thomas: the climate, Julius rowing in the bay instead of drinking after-work-whiskey in the bar, the tropical flowers, their beautiful house where my father rode around the balcony all day in his tricycle, the huge mahogany staircase, but also the hurricanes and other precautions. It must have been a great time –that is, until Transfer Day.
After the US and Denmark signed the treaty of sale for the islands on August 4th, 1916, and before the US entering the war against Germany, my grandfather quietly sold all the HAPAG properties, docks and buildings to a Danish lawyer, Jens Peter Jørgensen. Julius had correctly anticipated that the US authorities would confiscate German holdings, although there was an alleged guarantee in the treaty to protect the property of German nationals and firms. However, the treaty did have a telling clause: "that these rights and privileges might be influenced by what it might become necessary to undertake for the safety of the U.S. or their possessions". It would be impossible to tell the entire complicated story about the end of the HAPAG era in this article. Strangely enough, there are no books or articles either in the Virgin Islands or Germany that discuss this interesting little mosaic of world and company history. In my family history, I wrote down everything I learned from sources that included the 'Hamburger Staatsarchiv' where all documents of the HAPAG are stored (1). I didn't find very much; there is no hint that the company ever tried to reclaim their St. Thomas facilities after the war. I suppose that, to a big company like HAPAG, St. Thomas was just a tiny blip on a world map, peanuts.
Meanwhile, the new owner of the St. Thomas HAPAG facilities, Jens P. Jørgensen, never realized his get-rich-quick scheme with this new possession. The U.S. authorities angrily claimed that the deal was a 'wash sale' (fake), and confiscated all the HAPAG properties in Charlotte Amalie, including the two ships WASGENWALD and CALABRIA which were later released and sold. For years, Jørgensen wrote letters addressed to the Governor of the Virgin Islands and to officials in Washington pleading his case. To me he's like a Johann August Sutter, the man who lost his gold fortune in California. Jørgensen's amazing story is also described in greater detail in non-English sources (1; 5).
|Hamburg-American Coaling Station - Postcard|
My grandfather wrote a detailed report for the German Foreign Minister about what happened to him and the HAPAG facilities after the transfer and the subsequent declaration of war on April 6, 1917. Some main events were that he was arrested on May 5th, 1917 by the U.S. Marine Corps under—according to his judgment—false charges and made a POW. His office and private rooms were thoroughly searched and many items and papers were confiscated. The Americans accused him of owning and using secret codes and cipher material. Julius later related that the most painful aspect of the whole fiasco had been when they held him as a prisoner on the deck of the USS VIXEN in view of the entire town and its inhabitants where he had once been an important member of the community.
A few days later, the ship took him away from Charlotte Amalie—away from Ella and his three small children—to an unknown destiny. He ended up in an internment camp in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. The same fate occurred to the captains, officers and staff of the two German steamers. For many months, he was held without hearing or trial. During this time, he wrote dozens of letters and used diplomats from the Swiss Embassy in Washington to plead his case. His folders and the copies from the NARA in Washington contain many letters written by embassy personnel, US authorities, and agencies; however, if you read them as an average person, they're somewhat disappointing as they are mostly bureaucratic in nature, circling around remarks that the letter had been received or forwarded to somebody else, nothing particularly substantial.
What was Julius accused of? In a letter to the Board of Directors of the HAPAG in 1937 Julius Jochimsen states that he had 3 positions before the start of WWI: director of the HAPAG, German Consul and "B.E./V.M." of the naval staff. As Sophie Schiller explains in her guest posting, "B.E" stands for 'Bevollmächtigter der Etappe". As a German national in a neutral port, he acted since 1908 as an appointed agent with the mandate to support the German navy in case of a war with money, coal (important for St. Thomas!), provisions, medical material, equipment, and even ships. Because German warships were forbidden to enter the neutral port of Charlotte Amalie, German cruisers met at pre-determined coordinates somewhere in the Atlantic where they would receive coal from nondescript German freighters.
However, nowhere did I find any real proof that Julius was involved in actual espionage. Not in Julius' personal files and reports, not in the files in the Hamburg Archive, and not in the documents from NARA that Sophie Schiller copied. It may be that as German Consul, Julius reported to his HAPAG headquarters and to the Foreign Ministry in Berlin all important information that he gathered. Yes it is true that, strictly speaking, Julius used code books for purely commercial and administrative purposes. But the (alleged) radio stations on the two ships had been sealed at the outbreak of the war, and the British authorities controlled the actual cable. Therefore, it is inconceivable that my grandfather acted as a "spy" as Sophie asserts in her novel 'Transfer Day'. But, I admit that the whole story has yet to be told. There is still more facts to be revealed.
|Party, possibly Hapag office members, Ella, Julius and Theo|
with what appears to be a bottle of Danish beer in the middle
(1) Erinnerungen: Meine Familiengeschichte, typed manuscript in German, 2012
(2) Jan Tuxen: Et særligt brev, Dansk Vestindisk Selskab medlemsblad 2010,nr.4, Sept. 2010, p.15
(3) More about Hugo Larsen and Ella on the website of Jan Tuxen: www.tuxen.info/hugo_larsen/english.htm; look at his Virtual Gallery at the portrait P1
(4) Isidor Paiewonsky: diverse articles in "The Daily News" in the 1980ies
(5) Jan Tuxen: Lawyer Jørgensen, Barn af Kolding – Prokurator af St. Thomas, Dansk Vestindisk Selskap, del 1, Nr.1, January 2011 and del 2, Nr. 2, Marts 2011
(6)VI Daily News Aug. 24th, 1956 page 1.
Guest blog posted by Halvor Jochimsen, Germany