My grandmother Hildegard was the daughter of Harry and Auguste (born Siegismund) Koenig. Hildegard was born on November 20 in 1899 in Bremenhafen, a coastal town in northwestern Germany.
Hildegard came from a family of merchants and ministers. Harry’s mother Adele Koenig had been born Mellet in Switzerland where her father had found work as a minister after his family had fled France. They were Huguenots, French Protestants and members of what used to be France’s most industrious and advanced class during the 16th century. But in 1629 the Huguenots were stripped of political power and in 1685 King Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes that had previously guaranteed them religious and political freedom. As a result many Huguenots fled to other protestant European countries and the United States.
In Switzerland, Adele’s family had enjoyed political and religious freedom, but that did not protect them from financial hardships. After her father became unemployed when she was fifteen, Adele and her ten siblings had to help support the family. One brother was seven when he was sent to live with relatives in Paris with a name sign around his neck. My mother sees parallels with how aunt Christa was sent to relatives in Sweden during World War II without knowing much Swedish.
Adele Mellet was supporting herself as a language teacher and a governess in Edinburgh, Scotland where she met Robert Koenig who was teaching her German. They became engaged in 1849 when he was 20 and she 19. Initially his family was against the engagement, saying they were too young. Once the family had been introduced to Adele, however, they were very pleased with their son’s choice and after a five-years engagement Adele and Robert married.
Adele’s first language was French, which she spoke with her children. Her oldest daughter whom my mother remembers as Tante Emmy emigrated to New York City where she became a French teacher. Every summer Tante Emmy traveled by boat to Europe where she spent her vacation visiting relatives. Adele and Robert lived in many places during their life. Their son Harry was to follow that pattern.
Auguste Siegismund grew up on one of the Frisian Islands off Germany’s northern coast. Just like her husband, Auguste’s father was a physician. While Harry was outgoing and gregarious Auguste was shy and quiet. She was a great cook and loved the life she was leading with Harry and the many interesting places his career as “Marine Stabsarzt” took them to. Her shyness never stopped her from hosting the many dinner parties that were a part of her husband’s job description. Hildegard, however, recalled being raised mostly by nannies and never getting to spend as much time as she would have liked with her mother.