About 20 years ago I was contacted by a man I didn’t know who wanted to share a family history with me, and also pay me a visit. I was back East and he was out West, but he was on a personal journey—having recently suffered a heartbreaking loss– to make family connections across the country and in Europe too. He claimed to be my father’s second cousin, but they had never met, he said, and my father had died many years before. I had had a vague sense that my father’s mother’s Zeisler family was quite interesting. They had come from Vienna, I knew, and were musical, intellectual, and colorful; in fact, often sporting red hair like my own son’s. I knew, for example, that my grandmother’s aunt Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler had been a famous “woman” pianist of her time. But there had been little mention of any family members beyond my uncles, aunts, and first cousins when I was young and visiting my grandmother’s house.
Lo and behold, the name of the man who contacted me was Arthur Bloomfield, so I was curious and intrigued to meet him and learn what he knew. Well, Cousin Arthur’s annotated genealogy of the Zeisler-Bloomfield families (the Zeislers and Bloomfields were second cousins who had intermarried) opened up many corridors by way of which I was able to explore a fascinating branch of my family. I poured through his notes, peppered with wonderful old photos and anecdotes, and eventually used much of his research along with Census records to populate the Zeisler branch of my family tree on Ancestry and then on Geni. At the time, however, I never imagined that two decades later one small phrase in Arthur’s history would launch my journey—only just begun—in search of the life and art of the brilliant portrait painter Marie Rosenthal Hatschek.
Fast forward to this last summer when a friend told me about a book she had just finished reading called East West Street, by Phillipe Sands. At risk of doing this extraordinary book a terrible injustice, it tells the intertwined stories of Sands’ own family, and the families of two men named Hersch Lauterpacht and Raphael Lemkin. Lauterpacht was the author of the concept of “crimes against humanity,” and Lemkin the author of the concept of “genocide.” What wove together their stories were the horrific losses all three Jewish families suffered in the Holocaust, and their shared roots in the sometimes Austrian, sometimes Polish, sometimes Ukrainian town of Lemberg/Lwov/Lviv. Apart from the brilliant writing, compelling personal narratives, and fascinating legal and political dimensions, the book gripped my attention because I knew from Cousin Arthur’s family history that prior to Vienna and also Bielitz, my grandmother’s family’s home base had been in and around Lemberg. So my family roots were intertwined with Sands’ and his protagonists, and I set out to learn about them by delving back into Cousin Arthur’s document.
Here’s what I learned: My great grandfather Joseph Zeisler’s mother was named Anna Kanner. Anna had a sister Augusta who married a teacher of languages in Lemberg named Leo Rosenthal. Augusta and Leo’s only son, my great grandfather’s first cousin, was born in Lemberg in 1862. Quite a bit is known and written about this son, as he became the world famous and famously flamboyant pianist Moriz Rosenthal (1862-1946).  The Rosenthals moved from Lemberg to Vienna in 1875 when Moriz was an adolescent, presumably to support and further the young prodigy’s piano playing; however, as they were Jewish there were surely “push” as well as “pull” factors.
Moriz I had taken note of in earlier perusals of Arthur’s notes because he was famous, but I had taken little or no note of the rest of his Lemberg family. It turns out Moriz had several sisters, an older sister Rosa (who may have been a step sister) and several younger ones, Marie, Clara, Fanny, and Laura. Cousin Arthur had made only the briefest of comments on the sisters; of Marie he wrote simply that she was “a painter” who “did a portrait of the young Paul and Ernest Bloomfield Zeisler” (Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler’s children) and married a Professor Hatschek who was “an illustrious professor of natural sciences.” These were clues enough, however, to send me to the Internet, and it was there I discovered Marie was far more than just an ordinary painter, and that both her life and her art were victims of the Nazis.
Type in the name Marie Rosenthal Hatschek and up will pop a handful of auction results on https://www.artprice.com describing three of (what surely were hundreds of) her paintings: Damenportrait (1897) auctioned in Austria in 2002 and 2005, Erherzogin Maria Josefa (1900) auctioned in Austria in 1996 and 1998, and The Posy (not dated, and no photo available) auctioned in 1995 in the UK. The two portraits are simply exquisite, such that even an untrained eye can see they are masterful. And, furthermore, Marie had been hired to paint the mother of Emperor Charles I of Austria!
Another Internet site, Historical Clothing, discusses a painting “by Marie Rosenthal Hatschek of an unidentified boy on a white bear skin rug. The painting is entitled ‘Siesta’. The boy wears a smart sailor suit. We know nothing about the boy, but suspect he was from an affluent Viennese family. The painting is not dated, but we would guess it comes from the turn of the 20th century. We have been unable to find much information about the artist. This is surprising because the painting seems like a quality piece of work. The postcard (of the painting) comes from Galerie Wiener in Austria. She was important enough for her work to have been reproduced in postcard form.”
It began to appear that Marie’s identity as a notable portrait artist of her day had been all but completely lost.
With a birth record from Galicia (available through Ancestry) I was able to confirm Marie was born Marie Olga Rosenthal in Lemberg in 1871. I also stumbled upon a 47-word entry in the Benezit Dictionary of Artists: “Austrian, 20th century, female. Born 28 March 1871 in Lemberg (now Lviv, Ukraine); died 1942. Painter. Portraits. Marie Rosenthal -Hatschek studied under Huber and Franz Rumpler at the Akademie der Bildenden Kunste in Vienna and under Franz Lenback and Carl von Marr in Munich (available on line at: http://oxfordindex.oup.com/view/10.1093/benz/9780199773787.article.B00155966). Nothing more.
I presume Marie met and married Berthold Hatschek in Vienna. Born in 1854, Hatschek was 17 years older than Marie. According to his Wikipedia entry, which does not mention Marie or any other details of his personal life, except that he suffered from severe depression, he studied in Vienna and in Leipzig, and was greatly influenced by the famous German biologist and naturalist Ernst Haeckel. So it was most certainly through her husband that Marie met Professor Haeckel and other prominent scientists. Along with members of the Hapsburg royal family and wealthy Viennese, the scanty evidence on Marie’s paintings suggests her favorite subjects included these famous scholars.
In fact, I was stunned and delighted to find, again via an Internet search, that the Lilly collection at University of Indiana contains this marvelous 1915 painting of Professor Haeckel by Marie:
Ernst Haeckel. Oil on canvas, 1915, 94 x 135 cm. The Lilly Library.
How did it get there? University of Indiana professor Christoph Irmscher, who included the painting in an exhibit he curated for the Lilly writes in the exhibit notes, “This painting has a poignant history. … While Marie’s brother, the world-famous pianist Moriz Rosenthal was able to escape from the Nazis and continue his career in the U.S., Marie and Berthold were not so lucky. Expelled from his academic position, Professor Hatschek suffered the further indignity of seeing his house looted and destroyed. Apparently, Marie was able to make it to Belgrade, but her fate after 1940 is unknown (Music for the Worms, available online at: http://www.indiana.edu/~liblilly/darwin/30_RosenthalHatschek.html).
Irmscher goes on to explain that this portrait was among a handful Marie’s daughter Augusta was able to take with her to the U.S. in 1939. And, yes, there it is in Cousin Arthur’s notes: they do say that Marie had a daughter, named Augusta, who had married a John Dessauer. The Bloomington Indiana Herald contains an obituary for their son, also John Dessauer, who died in 2005. Augusta would have been my grandmother’s second cousin, and her son John my father’s third cousin. Sadly, I never knew them or even of their existence.
I corresponded with Professor Irmscher, who told me that another one of Marie’s paintings is owned by the Weill Cornell Medical College. Special Collections Librarian Marisa Shaari was able to confirm that a portrait of famous neurologist Bernard Sachs by Marie does indeed hang in the reading room of the Oskar Diethelm Library. She was kind enough to send me a photo of the portrait, of which there are no professional reproductions. Ms. Shaari sees the portrait every workday and had always admired it, but had never before been asked about it or the artist, and she knew nothing of Marie’s identity or sad history. The library records indicate the widow of Cornell Professor Louis Hausman, a student and friend of Sachs, had donated the painting. But nothing more.
Six paintings: a beautiful woman, Princess Maria Josepha, a boy in a sailor suit, a posy, Professors Haeckel and Sachs. Where are the others? What happened to Marie? Why did she not leave Europe with her brother, or her daughters? (A second daughter, Anna, went to England with her husband Leo Geschwind.)
Some answers are in Mannes College of Music professor Allan Evans’ taped interview with Moriz Rosenthal’s step daughter- in- law Adele Kanner, in 1983. Adele had been married to the son of Moriz’ wife Hedwig and Hedwig’s first husband Sigmund Kanner. (Sigmund was also a first cousin of Moriz’ and Marie’s!) Adele speaks quite a bit of Moriz’ sisters, who apparently were all quite gifted musically and were much adored by Moriz. Of Marie, she says she was “very much sought after” as a painter of portraits of the Imperial royal family. She remembers two paintings of note in particular, one of the daughter of the Emperor and another of the archduke. Marie had a big apartment in Vienna, she says, with a studio with the “most precious” pictures. Adele imagines Marie was paid handsomely for her royal family portraits. Moriz’ apartment in Vienna’s first district was also filled with beautiful artwork; and according to Adele, the pictures in the apartment by his sister Marie included a portrait of him. When asked what became of the paintings, Adele says – with pain in her voice — she does not know, only that they were lost after Hitler invaded Austria.
Adele recalls that the youngest sister, Fanny, had married a doctor from Yugoslavia and had converted to Greek Orthodoxy. She wistfully remembers that Fanny had visited Moriz in New York just shortly before Hitler invaded Yugoslavia. Moriz had begged her to stay, Adele says, but Fanny was quite certain nothing would happen to Yugoslavia; she also believed she would not be considered Jewish having converted and also would be protected by virtue of being well connected. But of course “it didn’t help,” Adele says, and “Hitler caught them.”
Moriz died in 1946. Whether or not he knew the specifics of the fates of his sisters, I do not know. But surely he knew they’d all been lost. After Moriz’ death, his wife Hedwig is reported to have said Moriz ceased working on his autobiography in 1938 because “he never considered his own life important any more” (Mitchell and Evans, editors, Moriz Rosenthal in Word and Music, 2006).
It was from The Claims Conference that I was able to verify Marie also spent her last days in Yugoslavia. A report titled “the Looting of Jewish and Cultural Objects in Former Yugoslavia,” prepared for the Looted Art and Cultural Property Initiative of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and the World Jewish Restitution Organization (June 2012) appeared almost miraculously one day on my computer screen. There it is, in black and white, on pages 27-28. In March 1943, from the Belgrade estate of Professor Dr. Berthold Hatschek, the looted objects included “scientific material (manuscripts, lectures, correspondence, including correspondence with Dr. Ernst Haeckel, etc.).”  Also from Dr. Hatschek’s estate, on page 28, the report records the looting of 260 paintings. On page 28, from the estate of Marie Rosenthal Hatschek, the looted objects are described as the “Cultural estate of Marie Rosenthal Hatschek; collection of paintings, antiquities, as well as letters and pictures, with the known Jewish pianist Moritz Rosenthal.” And finally, on page 28, the entire “estate Rosenthal” owned by Pianist Moritz Rosenthal was stolen.
Where did Marie’s paintings and the family’s other treasures go? A footnote on page 28 of the Claims Reports says “according to a letter written by Dr. Wunder, Obereinsatzfuhrer, to the ERR Stabsfuhrung/IV on 28 August 1944, the paintings by Ms. Rosenthal were to be sent to the Sonderstab Bildende Kunst in Kogl close to St. Georgen.” Kogl was one of the art repository sites used by the Nazis. Unfortunately, the authors of the report and its underlying sources do not know if Marie’s paintings ever did reach Kogl; and if they did, were they moved before the Allies reached Kogl and the other repositories, or afterwards? So far as I have been able to determine by searching looted property claim records available on line, none of Marie’s stolen paintings or other items looted from the Rosenthal and Hatschek estates have been claimed or even recovered. But my search has only just begun. Marie’s paintings do show up at auction now and then, so surely there are more out there waiting to be found.
Of course, Marie’s fate is known, though the imagination must fill in the details of the horrors she suffered. The name Marie Hatschek appears in the database of murdered Jews from Austria, compiled by the Documentation Centre for Austrian Resistance in Vienna. Her residence is listed as Wien 8, Alserstrasse 21, but her deportation record reads “ Jugoslawien/unbekanntes Lager”. From Yuglosavia to an unknown camp.
Cousin Arthur’s family history –beginning with Marie’s mother’s family the Kanners – is one of my most treasured possessions. The anecdotes and connections to numerous other cousins have given me great pleasure. But it was the small window into the life of Marie Rosenthal Hatschek that revealed the tragedy the Holocaust was for my family, and how much remains to be done to reclaim the memories of these lost lives. In Marie’s case, we lost not only a cousin but a treasure trove of remarkable works of art that have yet to be found, recognized, and shared with the world.
 Beth Abelson Macleod has published a thorough and wonderfully readable biography Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler: The Life and Times of a Piano Virtuoso (University of Illinois Press, 2015).
 The first chapter of Moriz Rosenthal In Word and Music: A Legacy of the Nineteenth Century, edited by Mark Mitchell and Allan Evans (Indiana University Press, 2006), contains Moriz’ own recollections of his Lemberg childhood.
 Laura is not listed among Moriz’ sisters by Arthur Bloomfield, but is talked about by Moriz’ step daughter-in-law Adele Kanner in a taped interview with Allan Evans. According to Adele, Laura was also a very gifted pianist but also mentally ill and at some point committed to a sanitarium for many years.
 Hatschek had died previously in 1941.