Sunday, October 14, 2012


When I was in the first stages of my Pikholz research, I searched the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) for anyone with our surname. Some of those who turned up were people I could easily identify and some were not. One of the latter was Leo W. Pickholz, born 24 April 1894 who died in January 1971. The Social Security number had been issued in New York State and his last residence was in New York City (zipcode 10024). His location for last benefit was undefined, which often means he lived outside the US.

I ordered his SS-5 (the application for a Social Security number, filled out in his own hand) and found that his parents were Berl Pfeffer and Lea Pickholz. He listed his birthplace as Austria without a town name and his birth year was listed as 1892, rather than 1894.

I did not yet know Berl and Lea, but as I saw other documents, it became clear to me that Leo had some connection to the family of Simon Pikholz and his wife Chana Waltuch - what we call the DORA family.

When the Ellis Island data became available, I found him listed as "Wolf Pikholz" with the additional information that his nearest relation in his country of origin was his father in Vienna and that his own birthplace was Kopyczynce.

When birth records became available for that town, we found that Berl and Lea had nine children there during the period 1882-1895, at least four of whom died in childhood. The eldest, Dwora, turned up later in New York, with a curious story of her own. Joel had a daughter in Chernovitz in 1912 and was killed in Germany. Joel's daughter lived in Mexico, but we have not succeeded in tracing her family. There was a son Marcus, who I think was a musician or a conductor in Belgium, perhaps going by the name Marcel Pfeffer. (Dwora and Joel also went by Pfeffer.) And there was Wolf Leib, born 24 April 1892 - we know him as Leo.

Those birth records showed Lea's parents as Simon Pikholz of Skalat and his wife Dwora Waltuch. Dwora died in 1861 at age twenty-three leaving young Lea and even-younger Breine about whom we know nothing. Simon then married Dwora's sister Chana and they had nine children, several of whom lived in NJ-NY. A descendant of one of those remembers her Pfeffer relatives very vaguely.

I also found an inquiry by Leo in 1962 and living in New York, about his sister Amalie, who had last been seen in Brasov Rumania during the war. He wanted to know if she had ever contacted the Jewish Agency about making aliyah. Recently we found that Amalie - followed by Julie and Maurice were born to Berl and Lea in Czernovitz.

There is a 1913 death for a Lea Pickholz in Czernovitz and I am guessing that this is Leo's mother.

Upon arrival  in 1923, Wolf Leib Pikholz
declares his intention to become a US citizen.

Wolf Leib announced his intention to become a US citizen immediately upon arrival in New York and received citizenship in 1928.

In 1931, Leo became engaged to Sophie Wechsler, but instead, in 1932, he married Frances Wechsler (perhaps related to Sophie, but they had different parents).

From the NY Times, 8 March 1931

Frances died of a brain tumor in 1944 and is buried in Beth David Cemetery, in Elmont NY. She had no children. Leo is not buried with her.

I spent some time looking for a grave for Leo, but could find neither a grave nor a death record. The Department of Health in New York searched and could not find a death certificate.

Then quite out of the blue, Arny Pickholz - of the Cleveland family - received an email asking:

Is there a Leon P[ickholz] in your family that worked overseas for the US Government? 
He worked for the Pentagon/Defense Intelligence Agency in the old West Germany.

A follow-up inquiry led me (and Arny) to a man who wrote - about someone in Boca Raton, whose name I do not have permission to use, so I will call him A:

"A" was a kid from Brooklyn (Williamsburg) who walked the point at the Battle of the Bulge. His first wife ... was in a kinder transport to England.
"A" was Pentagon/Defense Intelligence Agency for almost 40 years; all in West Germany.
I wrote to "A" and he responded:
[Leo] was a member of our organization, in Europe, for many years before retiring to Lugano, Switzerland.
My late wife and I visited him there, but lost track of him shortly thereafter.
I have taken steps by contacting other members of our former organization in the hope that they can provide additional information which may help to identify Leo Pickholz, who may the man you are seeking.
I next inquired of the Jewish community of Lugano. After an extensive search, they located a grave for Wolf-Leib Pickholz, his original name. The location is "2-76," but they have no date or next of kin and there is no marker.

I never heard further from "A" but he is still in the phone book for Boca Raton, so I emailed him again a few days ago to see if any of his former colleagues can flesh out Leo's life. This much we know - he was a widower of fifty-two with no children in 1944. Perhaps at that time - though perhaps earlier or later - he began working for US Defense Intelligence and apparently remained there quite a long time. He was certainly a German-speaker. Earlier he referred to himself as a jeweler (in Vienna) and a furrier (in NY).  He was living in New York in 1962 and was still unsure about the fate of one of his sisters, Amalie, who had been living in Brasov Rumania.

And his grave has no marker.


  1. Amy P. Kritzman14 October, 2012 18:05

    Another very interesting post. Thanks.

  2. "A" sent me the following correction:

    For the sake of factual accuracy, the organization where Leo worked was not part of the DIA (which didn't even exist then) but an element of DOD. Also, I was not a point man in the Battle of the Bulge, but a first scout for my infantry company (and that was bad enough.)