Vassel Origins

Our branch of the Vassel family lived in Normandy, France since the 1400s, first in the tiny village of Neuilly-le-Malherbe and then in the provincial capitol of Caen. The home in which Stanislas Vassel was born, on August 11, 1809 in Caen, stood until 1938. At age twenty-one he was drafted into the French army, but was discharged on Jan. 11, 1831, at age twenty-two, with lung disease. On May 17, 1835 the Journal de la Normandie tells of a fire in Caen, and the heroic efforts of Stanislas Vassel helping to fight it.

Stanislas left Caen and went to Paris in 1838. There he became a Mason of the eighteenth degree, and Grand Master of the Loge des Grand Orient de France on July 19, 1841. He also obtained the highest degree of Rosicrucian - a Christian movement devoted to esoteric wisdom with emphasis on psychic and spiritual enlightenment.

A love-affair with a girl in Paris, known only as "Louise" in letters which have survived, seems to have had some part in influencing him to leave Paris and go to Berlin. Although she wrote to him from Paris, pleading with him to leave Berlin and return to her, he apparently thought better of it.

Stanislas became a naturalized citizen of Prussia on May 22, 1843. Interestingly enough, they spelled his name wrong on the documents. It was spelled "Vashel" instead of "Vassel." Elaborate wall and water fortifications that had enclosed the medieval city of Berlin had been torn about 1800. Major roads and canals linked the capitol to the surrounding towns of the Brandenburg region. Over 400,000 people lived in the rapidly growing city of Berlin in 1850. The Prussian Court and army attracted new industry to the area and an excellent transportation network and government market drew new industries and workers.

Stanislas was described as having blue eyes in official traveling papers when he was 33 years old. He was a master top-hat maker, and was appointed "by special request of His Majesty the King," his silk top hat maker with a standing invitation to dinner, theater and tea at the King's new palace in Potsdam. Dated Oct. 6, 1844, the invitation was signed by Highmarshal von Meyerinck. During this time, Stanislas signed up for thirty-four riding lessons, according to a note dated July 1845.

On Nov. 6, 1845 he obtained a passport to visit Paris and Caen. He visited Paris frequently where he still had business dealings. His hats were considered the finest in high fashion, and the varicolored Vassel silk high-hats were mentioned specifically as being very stylish in a theater program for a performance of "King Lear" in Paris in 1845.

Stanislas married Magdalene Henriette Emilie Schmidt (born Oct. 4, 1814 and died Feb. 7, 1894 in Berlin), the daughter of master-tanner Johann Friedrich Heinrich Schmidt (born Dec. 17, 1782 and died July 10, 1844 in Berlin) and Marie Charlotte Nufer (born Oct. 22, 1787 and died July 10, 1837 - one of the last victims of cholera in Berlin.)

The marriage of Stanislas and Magdalene was to be performed in the Hedwigskirche in Berlin, since Stanislas was Catholic. He did not speak German very well, and when the priest asked him to promise that the children would be raised Catholic, he tried to explain that since his business required him to travel a great deal the rearing of the children would fall upon Magdalene. He told the priest that since she was Protestant she would be raising the children Protestant. Since this would be a Christian upbringing he felt it really didn't matter. When the priest said this would not be acceptable, Stanislas took his bride by the arm, left the Hedwigskirche, and was married June 16, 1843 in the Protestant Luisenstadtkirche. Although the children were raised Protestant, Stanislas remained a Catholic. He requested that he receive a Catholic burial when he was mortally ill three years later.

Their first child was born July 23, 1843, and was named Stanislaus Henri Antonin Eugen Vassel. He was called Eugen. Thirteen months later Louis Alfred Emil Vassel was born, on Aug. 13, 1844. He was known as Emil. The last of their three sons, and the direct-line ancestor of Bruno Vassel II, Leon Gustav Alfred Vassel, was born June 14, 1845 and was known as Alfred.

It must have been exhausting and somewhat overwhelming for Magdalene to bear three children so close to each other. However, for the Bruno Vassel I - Bruno Vassel II family, her sacrifice means a great deal since our family line stems from the youngest of the three sons. Stanislas died on April 26, 1846, when Alfred was less than ten months old.

Stanislas had been visiting in Paris when he became sick, and a quack doctor gave him a remedy that contained camphor. It attacked his nervous system and he became deathly ill. He hurried back to Berlin but died shortly thereafter. His tombstone inscription, written in French, reads:

Here lies

Henri - Antoine - Stanislas - Vassel

born at Caen 11 Aug 1809 Tender husband, good father his memory will remain dear

to those who knew him.

Magdalene Schmidt Vassel supported herself and her three sons after the death of her husband by continuing the business of her husband. Her mother had died nine years before and her father less than two years before the death of her husband. Her sons were able to obtain educations, and the hat-making firm of S. Vassel & Co. continued to be successful.

Eugen, the oldest son, received a business education and then continued with hat-making in S. Vassel & Co. He married Maria Dorothea Wilhelmine Hilke on Oct. 18, 1869 in Bad Freienwalde, Berlin ( Maria was born April 4, 1845 in Bad Freienwalde and died July 19, 1876 at Soden/Taunus.) Eugen died April 24, 1906 in Berlin, of diabetes.

Emil, the second son, studied business in Amsterdam and Berlin, and then joined the family firm of S. Vassel & Co. He never married and died in Berlin on June 10, 1901, age 56.

Alfred, the youngest son, studied business and then joined the family hat-making firm. During this time he had trouble with his eyes, being near-sighted, and therefore he gave up the hat-making business for a time. However, he must have obtained glasses because in 1869 he became a partner in S. Vassel & Co., which became the main supplier of hats for Princes Alexander and George of Prussia. In 1880 he left this business and studied photography with Albert Grundner. He continued in the photography profession until 1897, with a studio in the bustling center of Berlin which by this time had a population approaching 2 million people.

He married Helene Catharine Sophie Hartung on October 10, 1872. She was a beautiful woman of stately demeanor, from Thüringen. A large oil painting of Helene, standing regally in a long slender gown, used to hang in the home of Bruno Vassel II and now hangs in the home of Bruno Vassel III. She was born November 11, 1851 in Berlin, the daughter of Carl Julius Albert Hartung and Amalie Verona Wilhelmine Dreeke. Her father, Carl Hartung, was a book publisher, specializing in scientific thesises from the universities of Jena and Leipzig. He also bred wild and domestic birds such as ducks, pheasants and Cornish hens.

Alfred and Sophie Vassel's first child was born in Berlin on August 26, 1873. Seventeen months later Sophie delivered twins - a boy, Bruno I, who became my grandfather and is the lineage of this study, and a girl, Elfriede, who was known as Elfe.

Three children under the age of two years must have quite a challenge to Sophie, continuing in the tradition of Alfred's parents by having their children very close together. Their last child, Peter, was born three years later on April 3, 1878.

When their youngest child Peter was nineteen years old, Alfred and Sophie Vassel left Berlin and went to Schwarzburg, Thüringen not far from where Sophie had lived as a child. This heavily forested and mountainous region lies about 100 miles south and 100 miles west of Berlin. Sophie's family had lived about fifty miles east of Schwarzburg, in Langensalga, since the early 1700's. Alfred Vassel opened a health spa and hotel in Schwarzburg, known as the "Villa Vassel," which he ran until he died of a heart attach on November 2, 1906. His wife continued to run the resort until 1919, when her son Peter took over and converted the resort into a boy's school known as Pedagogium Vassel.

Peter had been a lieutenant in the German army in Russia during the First World War. When her returned from the war he purchased the hotel and resort from his mother and changed the "Villa Vassel" into a private boy's school which continued to function as a boy's school until 1937 when it was taken over by the Nazi regime and converted into a school for forestry. Peter was a philologist, having studied ancient and modern languages at the Goethe School in Berlin-Wilmersdorf and in Leipzig, specializing in Latin and French. He was considered to be a very fine teacher. He married Hedwig Speitel from Lichtenau, Thürginen on October 5, 1908. They were the parents of two children, Joachim (born October 7, 1909 in Berlin) and Elsbeth (born January 28, 1911 in Berlin.) Peter was imprisoned by the Nazi for his resistance to the Hitler regime, and died in prison in Jena, Thüringen on August 4, 1943. My father, Bruno II, attended Uncle Peter's boy's school from age 8 to 14, during the latter part of World War I. During that time Bruno's father was in a British prisoner of war in India. Bruno I's experience in the prison camp was terrible, and he almost died from exposure when transported back to Germany at the end of the war. Bruno II remained at the school until he went to Brazil to join his parents in 1922. He shared many delightful memories of his years cross country skiing in the mountains of Thüringen, of fishing in the Schwartza River, and of beginning to date the young frauleins of the neighborhood.

Bruno Vassel I, second son of Alfred and Sophie Vassel, went to India in 1900 as an architect and contractor for the Swiss firm of Strohmeyer & Co.. When he returned to Schwartzburg to visit his parents in the summer of 1905 he met Else Leist, a young lady from Berlin who was learning the art of being a hostess at the Villa Vassel. A whirlwind courtship of just a few weeks resulted in their marriage in Berlin on September 14, 1905. Else was known to her grandchildren as "Oma Vassel," and well the grandchildren remember her twinkling eyes as she spoke of her grand adventure at the age 23 of marrying dashing Bruno Vassel, whom she had known for only a few weeks, and then leaving immediately on their honeymoon to India. Oma loved to tell of having to iron her bridal nightgown on the railroad train traveling from Berlin through Bavaria and Switzerland to Trieste, Italy where they embarked on a ship for India. But more about that in the following chapter.

Bruno Vassel I's twin sister, Elfe, was a well-known figure skater, and performed together with Bruno I. She married Oskar Huttig on July 7, 1898 who owned a silk thread factory. He had a valuable stamp collection, particularly prizing an extremely rare black Mauritius stamp. The island of Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar, was also known as "Ile de France." Oskar was an excellent billiards player. Bruno II remembers visiting their summer cottage with his mother, which was located on the island of Rügen in the Baltic Sea. They had one daughter, Gerda, who was born January 16, 1903 in Berlin, and married Klaus Kuhnemann on May 14, 1925. Gerda and Klaus Kuhnemann had a son, Klaus, who became a lawyer. He married, but they never had any children. Bruno II and his wife Mary visited Gerda and Klaus at their home in Wupperthal, outside of Essen, Germany in the 1960's.

Bruno Vassel I's oldest brother Phillip, (born August 26, 1873 in Berlin and died December 19, 1951 in Bunde, Westfalen), studied in the School of Oriental Languages in Berlin where he graduated in 1894 with an emphasis in Arabic. He then obtained a law degree. In addition to German, he knew Latin, Greek, French, English and Arabic in twelve dialects very well, and could read and understand Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Rumanian, Russian, and Polish. He also learned Hebrew, and obtained his doctorate with honors on March 30, 1896.

Phillip Vassel became the German consul to Tangier, Morocco June 29, 1896 and to Casablanca, Morocco April 4, 1897. He represented the Kaiser in Fes, Morocco from March 26, 1904 until July 17, 1911. From 1911 to 1912 he represented Germany in the French-German negotiations over Casablanca in Bern, Switzerland and was also the secretary to the German delegation of the International Balkan Financial Conference in Paris. During the First World War he was the German minister to the Turkish Financial Reform Commission in Constantinople from December 4, 1913 until December of 1918. He had official appointments to the consulates of Arnheim, Holland from 1919 to 1921; Galatz, Rumania from 1921 to 1923; was Consul General to Odessa, Russia from 1923 to 1925; to Posen, Poland from 1926 to 1928; and Smyrna, Turkey from July to October, 1928, at which time he retired. He was recalled to service twice, once in 1931 over the Polish-German boarder dispute, and from 1941 to 1944 during the Second World War at which time he was German Consul General in Paris, supervising the German radio broadcasts to North Africa and the Arabic Middle-East.

How many individual and personal sorrows war perpetrates. In the First World War, two brothers supported the Kaiser. As a result, Bruno I spent seven years in a British concentration camp in India because he was caught intercepting British codes and sending them to his brother, Phillip, who was in the German consulate in Turkey. In the Second World War two brothers found themselves in opposing camps when Phillip was called into service in Paris by Hitler, whereas Peter lost his school to the Nazi, was imprisoned in Jena due to his opposition to Hitler's regime, and died there.

Phillip retired to Bunde, Westfalen in 1944 due to illness where he passed away December 19, 1951. His last words, after having been in a coma for some time, were: "I have stood on the brink of death; it is a wonderful feeling; how foolish are those who fear death - how foolish, how foolish." Then he slipped quietly away.

Known to be a very charming gentleman, he had a love for Goethe and Shakespeare. In 1937, S. Lewis Elmer, father of Mary Erety Elmer Vassel and father-in-law of Bruno Vassel II, visited Phillip Vassel at his home in Berlin. They went to the opera together, and S. Lewis Elmer was very impressed. He found Phillip to be a true gentleman and a scholar. Phillip was fascinated with Biblical textural problems of Bedouin-Arabic origin and wrote several books. His religious sentiments were strongly anti-Catholic and he was known as a loyal Protestant. Phillip was decorated with many honors and medals, including ones presented to him by the governments of Prussia, Sweden and Turkey.

Phillip married Anna Elizabeth Hermine Scheuch on September 2, 1901 in Peine, Hannover. Anna was born March 29, 1876 in Sulingen, Hannover and died in Bunde, Westfalen on September 29, 1950.

Their eldest son, Jurgen Fritz Vassel, born October 18, 1902, studied agriculture and then immigrated to what used to be German South-West Africa in 1929 to farm on a cattle ranch. He married Henny-Sophie Viereck on April 23, 1930 and they had four children. Kathe Vassel died on diphtheria in her first year of life, and Jochem Vassel was run down and killed by a drunken driver while on a Scout hike at the age of ten. Karen Vassel and Frauke Vassel have both married and live in South Africa. Frauke was the mother of triplets in 1972. Because of his father's importance as a German diplomat, Jurgen was imprisoned in South Africa at Lager Andalusia from 1940 to 1946.

Klaus Vassel, the second child of Phillip, was born February 29, 1908, while his parents were escaping by camel caravan from Tangler, Morocco at the time of the outbreak of the German-Moroccan war. He happened to also be born on February 29th in a Leap Year, and Bruno Vassel II, who attended Uncle Peter's school with Klaus in Schwartzburg during their boyhood years, remembers well how they loved to tease Klaus about the fact that he really only had a birthday once every four years and therefore was really only three years old and that he was "born on the back of a camel." They would say, "What can you expect from a fellow with a story like that?"

Klaus wrote the book Die Vassel aus Neuilly-le-Malherbe, the history which has provided much of the family information given herein. He researched and wrote extensively on the history of the Vassel family. In 1918 a Vassel dossier, which preserves the family history back to 1484 in Neuilly-le-Malherbe, Normandy, France was given to a paper mill to be recycled. However, a Frenchman named Dubourg rescued it because it contained history he felt was important. All of the records which Klaus apparently gathered together survived the bombing of 1939-1945 and the occupation of Berlin by the Russians, hidden in a box in the Treasury of the Fire Department of the province of Brandenburg in Berlin at Karlsbad 4/5. However, they are very damaged due to exposure to ground water and are in part illegible. These papers were handed down to Klaus's son Eick. The factual contents of the dossier deals with the litigation of a century-long quarrel between the Vassels and the pastors of the parish of Neuilly-le-Malherbe concerning the right to be able to use one bench of their own in the Church. Ach ya, such are the strong-willed Vassels!

Klaus explains in his introduction to Die Vassel aus Neuilly-le-Malherbe, which is written in German, that he found it a real challenge to learn to read the old French in which the records are written. The fifteenth and sixteenth century French parish records of St. Martin Church, Neuilly-le-Malherbe, which have now been microfilmed and are in the Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah are, indeed, very difficult to read. Yvette Longstaff, a French genealogical researcher from Sandy, Utah, when asked to look at these records, said they were so difficult to read it would take her about seven hours of study just to figure out the old French, before she could even begin to transcribe them. Her reaction to these old records helps one appreciate all of the effort Klaus made, which has made available to the family so much family history. Klaus was a good friend of Bruno Vassel II, and Bruno and his wife Mary visited Klaus and his wife Ilse-Dore in their home in Richterich bei Aachen, Germany and Klaus and his wife visited Bruno and Mary Vassel in Punta Gorda, Florida in the late 1970's.

Klaus married Ilse-Dore Berta Gertrud Henning from Rheinsberg, Mark on June 25, 1937 and they had three sons, Jens born May 17, 1938, Eick born June 6, 1939 and Jorn born December 25, 1943. Two of the three sons are lawyers, and there is a book by Klaus in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City dealing with these three families.

Klaus obtained his doctorate of law in 1935. He was a lieutenant in the Second World War, was captured by the Americans in 1945, and subsequently was detained in a British prisoner of war camp from May 2 to September 18, 1945.

After working for various law firms, he established his own firm in Bunde from 1963 to 1970 when he retired. He published 85 law articles during his career. His special love was the researching of family history, and he wrote four books in German on the history of the Vassel family.

Margaret Vassel, third child born to Phillip and Anna, was born July 19, 1913 in Hannover, Germany. She married Heinrich Neucohner from Bunde, Westfallen in June 15, 1937 in Berlin and had a second Catholic wedding in Colon on June 16, 1937. They were the parents of four children - Bernd, born May 5, 1938; Kurt, born May 5, 1939; Dierk, born June 13, 1940 who has moved to Salvador-Bahia, Brazil; and Lutz, born April 23, 1944.