On board S.S. Albert Ballin, probably February 1925
The picture shows a woman holding a book in her left hand with two men, to the left and right of her. The men are dressed in suits, vests and ties and wear caps. They are taller than she is. The woman is dressed in a warm and long checkered coat. To the left at the bottom of the picture is a valve and the left man (with his arm around the woman’s shoulder) is leaning on a railing. The picture seems to have been taken aboard a ship.
The reverse side of this picture has the lay-out of a postcard – but unfortunately neither addressee nor date and place are indicated. It must have been mailed in an envelope. The handwritten text, however, is surprising. The picture postcard belonged to the estate of Hermann Loewenhardt (1892-1972) who had emigrated from Germany to the United States in September 1921 and settled in Detroit. It was addressed to him (“Lieber Herman”, dear Herman) and signed by his sister, “Deine Hanny”, your Hanny (Johanna Loewenhardt, 1885-1972). A few words had been added in a different handwriting by “deine Schwester Clara”, your sister Clara (Clara Löwenhardt, 1880-1964).
Hanny wrote her brother in German even though she had been living in the US for fifteen years and he for over three years. Translated into English:
Dear Herman: I am sending you many greetings, too. We have arrived here safely but Germany has changed very much for the worse. It is not the good-old Germany [of before]. Wednesday I will go to Dortmund. Will write you from there. Please send me a note. Heartfelt greetings from the children as well. Your Hanny.
Her sister added, in German as well:
Warm greetings to Mrs. Jayne and family. We greet all [?] Your sister Clara
What do we know about this picture postcard, and what not?
We know that on 19 January 1925 Johanna Benning née Löwenhardt from Detroit applied for a US passport for the purpose of ‘pleasure and traveling’ in Europe (Germany, France, Switzerland, Holland and England).1 In her application she stated that she would travel with her two sons Hans (September 1907) and Ralph Benning (October 1908). Johanna had arrived in the USA from Germany with her husband and two sons in August 1910 and she had become a naturalized US citizen in April 1920.
From the passport application we also know that Johanna and her sons intended to sail from New York harbor on the S.S. Albert Ballin on 5 February 1925. At that time, Johanna was almost forty years old; Clara, her sister, was 44 years; and Johanna’s sons Hans and Ralph were seventeen and sixteen years. The S.S. Albert Ballin was an ocean liner of the Hamburg-America Line, launched in 1923.
We do not know for sure when and where the picture was taken – and who the three persons in it are. But from the text it is certain that it was written after arrival in Germany, possibly after disembarkation in Hamburg since ‘Wednesday I will go to Dortmund.’
From the established facts it seems very likely that this picture was indeed taken on board Albert Ballin, and that the two young men are Johanna’s sons, Hans to the left and Ralph to the right. Johanna was after all sending greetings ‘from the children as well’. But who is the woman? Was Clara on board at all…. or was she at the quai in Hamburg to greet the party from Detroit? The problem is that we know next to nothing about Clara apart from the fact that she died in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1964. Was she still living in Germany in 1925? Already in South America? Did she join Johanna and sons on the boat trip from New York to Hamburg – and could it possibly be her in the picture?
It does not seem likely. From other pictures and her passport application we know that Johanna was a rather short lady. Her stature was 1,62 meters, five feet and four inches. The lady in the checkered coat may indeed very well be Johanna Benning-Loewenhardt at full sea on her way to her many relatives in Germany. On board she had a picture taken with her sons.
The rest is speculative: by the time they arrived in Hamburg the picture was ready and she proudly showed it to her sister at the quai. Clara then wrote a few words on the right part of the reverse side to their joint brother Hermann, and Johanna added her message.
The picture has been kept and preserved for all these years by Hermann’s youngest son Joseph who used to live on the slopes of Hawai’i’s tallest volcano, the Mauna Kea.2 Shot almost 90 years ago somewhere on the Atlantic Ocean, mailed from – probably – Hamburg to Detroit and handed from father to son, taken to Hawai’i’s Big Island… and now it is in cyberspace!
- National Archives and Records Administration; Washington D.C.; Passport Applications, January 2, 1906 – March 31, 1925; Collection Number: ARC Identifier 583830 / MLR Number A1 534; NARA Series: M1490; Roll #: 2697
- Joseph died in a glider accident in Nevada on 7 August 2016.