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Aron Heilner family collection

L. Tom Perry Special Collections is pleased to announce the availability of a newly digitized collection: Sanford Joseph Heilner and Claire Heilner Freedman collection on the Aron Heilner family (MSS 6721).  This collection is a wonderful resource for understanding 19th century Jewish German immigrant history in the American West.  Some descendants of Aron Heilner, including Sanford and Claire, became members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-days Saints.

The following is a description of the collection by Morgan Meik and Aubrey Stewart, students in the Lee Library Digitization Lab who assisted in scanning this collection:

Sigmund Heilner with son (circa 1892)

The records of the Heilner family collection belonged to Sigmund Heilner, an ambitious Jewish German immigrant seeking to make his mark in the United States. They give a firsthand look at Sigmund’s family interactions within the United States and between those who lived in Germany. Additionally, the collection features letters, journal entries, business documents, and other historical clippings pertaining to Sigmund’s business endeavors. The collection was compiled by Claire Heilner Freedman and Sanford Joseph Heilner—two descendants of Sigmund and avid genealogists who added their own commentary throughout the collection. Their writings offer their unique perspectives through their attempts to craft a holistic narrative of Sigmund Heilner’s life.

The collection follows the triumphs and highpoints of Sigmund and his family. These include Sigmund’s marriage, his business endeavors, and his eventual election as mayor of Baker City, Oregon. Correspondence between Sigmund and his family highlight their lives in Germany, such as his brother David’s business successes. The collection also documents a series of tragedies within the Heilner family: the destruction of the theater owned by Sigmund, complicated family relationships, and the murder of Sigmund’s brother Seligman. Perhaps most heart-renching is the ominous forecomings of the Holocaust and its devastating results on the Jewish Heilner family in Germany. 

Signmund Heilner’s theater on fire (1937)

In the midst of extreme highs and lows, the Heilner collection offers a unique history of a family attempting to thrive in a confusing and sometimes cruel world. It’s a story of heartbreak, loss, hope, and perseverance—a story that has stood the test of time and remains relevant today. 

In addition to a beautifully compiled narrative, the Heilner family collection offers valuable firsthand information for a variety of research topics. These topics include European immigration to the United States, contrasts in German and American business styles, life on the American west coast in the 20th century, and social dynamics among multigenerational families.

Jesse and Joseph Heilner, descendents of Sigmund Heilner (circa 1887)



Selections of letters from this collection will soon be made available alongside thousands of other letters related to German immigration to the United States through the German Heritage in Letters online digital collection, a project by the German Historical Institute in Washington, D.C.

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