The Hirsch Weisskopf Family

The merchant Hirsch Weißkopf was born in Gunzenhausen in 1783 as the son of Lazarus Moses Weißkopf and his wife Jette. In 1841 he married Hanna Klopfer, also from Gunzenhausen. The couple remained childless. In 1824, Hirsch took over the upper half of the house at Waagstraße 1, which has been owned by the Weißkopf family since 1748. His unmarried sister Mindel (Mina) became co-owner.

The son of his brother Seligmann Lazarus, David Seligmann Weißkopf, born in Gunzenhausen in 1798, probably lived in the same house. In 1826 he married Voegele Rosenbaum, born in Theilheim in 1807 as the niece of the famous Rabbi Mendel Zell Rosenbaum.

David Seligmann Weißkopf studied in Würzburg for nine years and then worked as a writer of the Ten Commandments. Among other things, he made legal scrolls, mezuzahs and tefillin. (Tefillin, also Tephillin, from Hebrew tefila, "prayer", are leather straps and leather "prayer capsules" that are worn by men during prayer and contain texts from the Torah.)

His request for protection and a license was initially rejected by the magistrate because there was no need for Ten Commandment writers in Gunzenhausen. In 1826, however, he was probably admitted as a citizen, but as a protective relative. This is difficult for us to understand because his father, Seligmann Lazarus Weißkopf, had lived here as a cattle trader since 1795 and David Seligmann was also born here.

This negative attitude may also have been the reason why he left the city in 1826, the year of his marriage, and lived with his family in Würzburg.

The first two children were probably born there, although only the second daughter Judith is explicitly stated as such in the family tree.

In 1830 he became rabbi in Aub, where the other children were probably born, although this is not recorded in the family tree.

The children of David Seligmann and his wife Voegele were

Kaula Weißkopf *1827
Married to Rabbi Heyum Nathanson in Hamburg.
Judith Weißkopf *1829 in Würzburg
+1916 in Ansbach
From 1850 married to Rabbi Marx Michael Kohn
*1826 in Kleinerdlingen
+1888 in Kleinerdlingen
The couple had six children including
Chaja Kohn *1853 in Kleinerdlingen, married Landau,
Grandmother of the famous neurologist Oliver Sacks.
Pinchas Kohn *1867 in Kleinerdlingen
+1941 as a highly respected rabbi in Jerusalem.
Lazar Weißkopf *1830
Married to Caroline Rosenfelder
The couple had four children.
Mayer Weißkopf *1832
Married to Sophie Weiler. The couple had six children.
Moise Weißkopf *1836
+1936 in Paris
Was a rabbi in Paris. There he changed his first name to Maurice.
He was married to Marguerite Sender. The couple had five children.
Their son Joseph Weisskopf
*1881 in Paris
+1970 in Evian
was a French socialist and journalist who changed his name to Georges Gombault.
Ella Weißkopf *1838
Married to Raphael Rau from Fürth. The couple had two children.
Seligmann Weißkopf *1840
He was married to Judith Rosenbaum. The couple had six children.

In 1847 David Seligmann Weißkopf became district rabbi in Wallerstein.

Rolf Hofmann has published the family tree in the internet under the following Address:

He was kind enough to make it available to our website in an expanded format. To download the family tree as a pdf file (162 Bytes) klick  hier.

Under the following Address you can find pictures of some grave sites at the Wallerstein cemetery, where members of the Weisskopf and Wassermann families are buried.

The so called Rabbi Graves
The so called Rabbi Graves: rom left Rabbi Weisskopf’s widow Vogel, Rabbi Kohn’s daughter Zipora, Rabbi David Weisskopf, Rabbi Marx Michael Kohn, Rabbi Kohn’s widow Judith © AG Juedisches Leben

There we also found information about the Rabbi’s from these families.

David Weisskopf and his son-in-law Marx Michael Kohn were the last Rabbi’s with congregations in Wallerstein in Northern Swabia. They had created a very active congregation and when the position of the Rabbi in the congregation in Oettingen became vacant in 1857, they took it over.

After the death of Rabbi Marx Michael Kohn in 1888 however, when the Jewish population continued to diminish in the outlying communities, the Jewish congregations in this part of Bavaria were integrated into the Ichenhausen congregation.

David Seligmann Weißkopf had died four years earlier on March 19, 1882. The news of his death was announced in the newspaper 'DER ISRAELIT' on March 22nd. This obituary can be read here.




At the same time, David Seligmann Weisskopf's son Moses became rabbi of a small Orthodox community in Paris, where he changed his first name to Maurice. He held this position until his death at the age of 101. His grave site is at Montmartre cemetery. It is modest, and contains a number of relatives as well. The inscription is severely weathered and hardly legible.

Rabbi Maurice (Moise) Weisskopf of Paris in his advanced years
Rabbi Maurice (Moise) Weisskopf of Paris in his advanced years on a visit to New York © Rolf Hofmann

Another interesting fact in the story of the Weisskopf family is , that David Weisskopf’s aunt (Bertha Weisskopf of Gunzenhausen) was the mother of Rabbi Moses Wassermann, born 1811 in Gunzenhausen. So two prominent Rabbi’s in Southern Germany were actually cousins, whose families originated in Gunzenhausen.

Oliver Sacks © Nancy Crampton
Oliver Sacks © Nancy Crampton

The well known Neurologist and author Oliver Sacks had ancestors in Gunzenhausen too in the Weisskopf and Kohn families. In his memoirs, which were published in German under the title “Onkel Wolfram” he tells the story about how his great grandfather acquired the name Landau.

"As the youngest of the almost youngest (I was the fourth of four children and my mother the sixteenth of eighteen) I was born almost 100 years after my grandfather on my mother’s side and never knew him.

He was born in 1837 as Mordechai Fredkin in a small Russian village. As a young man he somehow avoided being drafted into the army of the Kossacks. He fled Russia with the passport of a dead man named Landau when he was 16. As Marcus Landau he made his way to Paris and from there to Frankfurt (on the Main River). There he married a woman,( who was also only 16). Two years later in 1855, they moved to England with their first child."

His grandmother Chaya Kohn from Germany, the granddaughter of David Seligmann Weißkopf, is also mentioned in this book. She became the second wife of Markus Landau after his first wife died in childbirth with their sixth child. With Chaya he had another 13 children, and one of them was the mother of Oliver Sacks.

Rolf Hofmann explains the family connections:

Marx Michael Kohn (the very last Rabbi in the District Rabbinate of Wallerstein, before it was incorporated with the Ichenhausen Rabbinate after his death) and his wife Judith, born Weisskopf had these children: Chaja (married Marcus Isreal Landau), Seligmann, Hindele (married Hermann Rieder), Helene Rachel (married Jonas Simon), Zipora (never married) and Pinchas Kohn (married Rosalia Moses). He was a renowned Rabbinate personality in Ansbach.

The grandparents of Oliver Sachs, Marcus and Chaya Landau, with their 13 children in the garden of their house in Highbury New Park (1902).
The grandparents of Oliver Sachs, Marcus and Chaya Landau, with their 13 children in the garden of their house in Highbury New Park (1902)

Standing from left to right: Mick, Violet, Isaak, Abe, Dora, Sidney, Annie
Sitting: Dave, Elsie (Oliver Sacks’s mother), Len, Grandfather and grandmother, Birdie
In front: Joe and Doogie

A great grandson of Judith Weisskopf, Nick Landau of London has helped us a lot with our project. He also wrote us this mail:

It was very nice to hear from you.

Yes, Oliver Sacks is my father’s first cousin. I will check in the book ”Onkel Wolfram” for anything that might interest you. I am surprised that he included Gunzenhausen in his remarks, because his mother was born in England. His father lived in Lithuania (I think) and came to England when he was very young. His mother was the sister of my grandfather, she was born in Kleinerdingen.

Hindele Kohn, mother of Michael Rieder (Burgstallstrasse 9) was the sister of my great grandmother Chaya. As I mentioned before, both were born in Kleinerdingen.

If you check my ancesters in Waagstrasse 1, you will come upon Lazar and Seligman Weisskopf.

By the way, the “Onkel Wolfram” (Titel of the book by Oliver Sacks , was my Grandfather (Dave) later on, but he was not a chemist. I noticed that Oliver Lazar Weisskopf who was a Rabbi who had a penchant for alchemy, lived in Luebeck in the 17th century. Is it correct that Luebeck is in the north of Germany?

I also see now that he wrote that his mother’s mother was born in Gunzenhausen. I have the family which a cousin in Australia put together, and I can be reasonably sure that my great grandmother was born in Kleinerdingen. I thought I had always heard that she came from there.

I hope that in the not too distant future I will be able to take a vacation and use it to visit the places where my family lived. They were buried in the cemetery at Wallerstein.

My forefathers (David Weisskopf and Mordechai Michael Kohn) were Rabbis in that area, and I have a copy of a newspaper article about them.

My father’s paternal grandmother, Chaya Kohn lived in Germany in 1873. His maternal Grandfather Wechsler came from Schwabach. They came to England at the same time.

My father had a family that came to England before the war. The family tree will include all those relatives that perished. Of course by that we had been in England for 70 years. In those days, before airmail and telephones, regular letters were the only means of keeping connections alive. It was very easy to lose contact.

Concerning the Rieder family, I will check the family tree, as soon as I can. My cousin in Australia compiled it. With the help of the listings in the family tree it should be possible to contact some of them.

With friendly greetings

Nick Landau

Nick Landau is right, it was not the mother of Oliver Sacks' mother who was born in Gunzenhausen, but his mother's grandfather, namely Rabbi David Seligmann Weißkopf.