Tributes to Sophie Caplan, AJGS Past President and Life Member

Sophie Caplan receives a certificate of appreciation from Rieke Nash for her long association with AJGS.

AJGS founding member, past president and life member Sophie Caplan passed away peacefully on Saturday January 20, 2018. Sophie was a towering figure in Australian Jewish genealogy and many of our members have fond memories of her efforts in building our society into the vibrant organisation it is today.

We would love for you to share your memories of Sophie in the comment  section below. We will pass these on to Sophie’s family.

14 responses to “Tributes to Sophie Caplan, AJGS Past President and Life Member

  1. I would like to thank Sophie Caplan for her wonderful and enthusiastic help, support and promotion when the Perth group Jewish Historical & Genealogical Society of Western Australia started back in 1998. Sophie was very generous with her time and many conversations, and she also donated many books to help our Library to grow. My sincere condolences to her family.

  2. SOPHIE CAPLAN
    Sophie dropped in to a North Shore Synagogue Library Committee Meeting in 1991 and asked if anyone was interested in establishing a genealogy society. Rieke Nash immediately raised her hand. This quickly led to the founding of the Australian Jewish Genealogical Society, Inc. (AJGS) – and I was part of that too. When Sophie became the founding President of the Society in November 1991 she had already established contact with the Jewish Genealogical Society in New York and also genealogists around the world. All of these endeavours were before the Internet was established in the mid- 1990s. Her preferred contact method overseas was by direct telephone calls.
    The AJGS committee supported her wish to have a Newsletter for our growing membership, that is the “Kosher Koala”. She was one of the international Contributing Editors in “The International Review of Jewish Genealogy”, namely: AVOTAYNU – until recent years.
    Sophie was born in the German town, Aachen, located on the south- western side and close to Belgium. It was also the town where my paternal grandfather’s sister, Jenny Burghardt (née Nachemstein) and her family – husband Siegbert, sons Rolf and Hans lived. In 1992 former surviving Jewish Aachen residents and/or their families were invited by the Society for Christian-Jewish Co-operation, Aachen, to participate in a commemoration of Aachen’s Jews who lived there from 1850 to 1938.
    On her return from the commemoration Sophie came to an AJGS workshop with a booklet of the event. I looked through it and found a school photo with students from the years 1926-1928. Also each of the boys and girls were named and I immediately recognised the name Hans Burghardt. I made copies and later showed the photo to my father. As there also was the name of the photo source I wrote to the Aachen Society and asked if they could give me the address of the provider, Kurt Rosendahl, USA.

    In response they said for privacy reasons they could only forward my letter. Soon after I received a letter from Kurt Rosendahl who wrote that he was not the owner of the photo, because it originated from long standing friends, the Burghardt family, namely through Ilse Zecherman (née Westheim). Ilse who was also on the photo was Hans’s first cousin. Kurt forwarded my letter to Ilse who also lived close by.
    After a number of weeks I received a letter from Ilse. She started with an apology: she was emotionally overcome by my letter, because it was the first time in over 50 years she received a query connected to her Burghardt family – her mother being the sister of Siegbert Burghardt. Not long after, I met Ilse at her home in New York. Not only was she thrilled – as I was – to get together, but she gave me other photos, also letters.
    I also researched more about the fate of the Burghardt family. They established a toy manufacturing and sales business in Aachen in the 1920s. After Hitler and his Nazi party came to power in 1933 the Burghardts were able to continue their business. The older brother Rolf was their salesman, travelling with permission to customers in Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg. But in 1938, before Kristallnacht in November, they applied to move with their business to Belgium. This was granted and they moved in January 1939.
    After Germany invaded and tookover Belgium on 10 May 1940 most of the Jewish males, including the Burghardts, were deported to an internment camp at St. Cyprien in the Lower Pyrenees in France – where life became very harsh. Ilse gave me a letter her family received in New York from Rolf. He begged them to send money to buy food. The women were kept in Bruxelles.
    Except for Rolf, the Burghardts and many other Jews, male and female were sent to Drancy in France and then by train to Auschwitz where they were gassed. Rolf became very ill and died in a hospital in Nimes – a small blessing. This was certified by his father Siegbert.

    I maintained contact with Ilse Zecherman until she passed away in New York in 2011.
    My Burghardt story is one of countless others where Sophie set the seeds for many of us in the genealogy world to achieve family connections ever since she founded the AJGS in 1991. Her contributions went all over the world and we are forever grateful to her endeavours. Her family should be very proud of her achievements and I send my sincere condolences to them.
    Peter Nash, Sydney
    Reference: http://gedenkbuchprojekt.de/html/en/biographien.php

  3. I met Sophie on a genealogical tour of Poland and Ukraine, in 1995, and I was impressed by her vast knowledge, vivacity and enthusiasm. She was helpful, dedicated, and tireless, never too busy to discuss some aspect of genealogy. I appreciated her warmth and support when I was researching my own family. She was a pioneer of Jewish genealogy in Australia, and she will be missed. My sincere condolences to her family.

  4. I first met Sophie Caplan in 1998 when she was visiting Melbourne to give a talk to a group of Jewish family research enthusiasts. They had responded to a notice in the Australian Jewish News. Sophie had been invited to discuss the the possibility of establishing a branch of the newly formed Australian Jewish Genealogical Society in New South Wales.
    Sophie’s enthusiasm was contagious and in the next few weeks what was intended as as a branch, instead a separate body was created, namely, the AJGS (Vic) Inc. with its own separate newsletter.
    The cooperation was a success and continued long after Sophie’s retirement.
    Her commitment and energy will long be remembered by those who were inspired by her leadership in those early years.

  5. Dianne Johnstone

    I first met Sophie Caplan when I joined the Australian Jewish Genealogy Society. She was the president at the time, and made me feel most welcome. She showed great interest in my story, and gave me encouragement to continue my research into my newfound birth family. For that, I shall be forever grateful. Thank you, Sophie. Your contribution and enthusiasm have been immeasurable.

  6. Jeannette Tsoulos

    I was on the committee of AJGS and AJHS when Sophie was President and admired her memory for people and their connections to others, and also her great generosity. Whenever a new book of Jewish genealogy or history was published, Sophie would buy several copies, which she donated to the various Jewish genealogical and historical societies in Australia.
    She initiated the Hans Kimmel Essays for Moriah Year 10 students, with the aim of enriching their knowledge of the Shoah, the establishment of Israel and the contribution of Jews to Australian life. She judged every essay and donated every prize, of which there were many every year.
    Sophie was a loyal and proud wife of Leslie. She accompanied him on many visits overseas in his capacity as a leader in the Australian Jewish community. I remember a fascinating talk she gave after their trip to Ethiopia to visit the Jewish villages there.
    Sophie was very proud of her sons and her grandchildren. I wish them ‘long life’. She will be greatly missed.

  7. Jean-Pierre Stroweis

    I first met Sophie at the 1994 Jewish genealogy conference in Jerusalem since then we met at more IAJGS conferences. She was a very colorful, lively and kind person. Due to her years spent in France, we talked in French.
    Sophie was also generous. I found a few books in the library of the Israel Genealogical Society that she had donated to the group. Then years later, she has been very supportive of the International Institute for Jewish Genealogy.
    I will miss her.

  8. I would like to thank sophie caplan for her help with my family history i had many conversation with her she was a lovely lady rest in peace your a treasure you will be remembered by me forever

  9. All my sympathy to Sophie’s family.
    Sophie was the very energetic president when I joined and was helping everyone. Her knowledge so great and she shared it very generously.
    May Sophie rest in peace.

  10. My very first seconds meeting Sophie, on hearing my surname she gave me a “Did you know that your great-grandfather ….” tidbit, an experience that I’m sure many thousands of people had with Sophie. She was a font of knowledge and information on the Jewish community and Jewish life, history and genealogy not only in Australia but all over the world and was so happy to share it.
    Her contribution to Australian Jewish Genealogy research and Australian Jewry is invaluable and we thank her. Rest In Peace.

  11. Sylvia Deutsch OAM

    Sophie Caplan was like a force of nature. She was determined that her new organisation, the Australian Jewish Genealogical Society, should also be active beyond Sydney. Knowing that I was living in Canberra she approached me in 1993 to be the Society’s representative in the national capital. It was impossible to say “no” to Sophie, and for the next 10 years I was the contact person in Canberra, organising genealogical activity and contributing to the “Kosher Koala”, the AJGS newsletter – if my memory serves me that was Sophie’s humorous choice of name. After I stepped down from this role Dr. Vernon Kronenberg ably took on this task. There were a few AJGS members in Canberra but not enough to form a separate AJGS branch. Given the small size of the Canberra Jewish community most were also members of the Australian Jewish Historical Society ACT, and so the AJHS ACT strove to include at least one function each year focussed on an aspect of Jewish genealogy. Sophie was also a guest speaker for the AJHS ACT. I would like to pay tribute to her vision and dedication and untiring enthusiasm. She was truly an amazing person and it was a privilege to know her.

  12. Sorry to hear about Sophie.
    She helped me start on the road to discover my family roots, for which I am grateful.

  13. I remember the inaugural meeting of the AJGS held at Sophie Caplan’s home in Northbridge In November 1991, I volunteered to be treasurer, Sophie asked me if I had any experience in accounting, to which I had to reply no.
    She had an incredible encyclopaedic knowledge of events relating to the holocaust, including names, dates & locations. As Evelyn said, committee meetings at Sophie’s place always went until late in the night, she had such incredible energy.
    I was working in the Tax office at the time & Sophie would sometimes ring me at work to ask for assistance in finding the relatives of people who were trying to find lost family.
    Her terrific energy, knowledge & incredible memory will be sorely missed by everyone in the genealogical community.
    To her family, I send my condolences & wish them all long life.

  14. Sophie Caplan was President at the time that I first joined AIJGS. Although I have not seen her for many years, my recollection of her is very clear. She was larger than life in presence and personality. I was impressed by her intellect, knowledge and incredible memory. Her dedication to the Society was evident as was her pleasure at assisting others in various ways.
    On a personal note, when I first joined the Society, I was sent a couple of back issues of the hard copy of Kosher Koala. On the back of one of the copies was the Family Finder where I happened to notice that someone was searching for my mother-in-law who was a Holocaust survivor. The article had been placed in the Kosher Koala by Sophie from an overseas connection on behalf of my mother-in-law’s niece, who was based in Devon, England. I shall never forget the pleasure that Sophie expressed having brought these two relatives together for the first time and during many subsequent occasions.
    Committee meetings with Sophie as Chairperson, never finished until the late hours of the evening. Sophie had boundless energy and enthusiasm which few could match.

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