The Bohnstedt line through Panama, Fresno and Los Angeles

Three individuals; Werner Bohnstedt, John Wolfgang Bohnstedt, and Steve Bohnstedt can be found while doing searches for "Bohnstedt" on the worldwide web. At first glance, it would not be apparent that the three were ever related, especially when considering Steve Bohnstedt. The two older men, Werner and John, both pursued academic careers. But the younger Steve developed his own reputation as a body-builder. Even so, there is sufficient evidence to link the three men into a family lineage.


John Wolfgang Bohnstedt and Steve Bohnstedt

Years ago, when I first began researching the Bohnstedts I came across Stephen "Steve" Bohnstedt, a body-builder and physical fitness expert. He also owned and operated "Total Body Fitness", a gym in Whittier California. Later, while in a shop that sells exercise equipment, the sales clerk recognized my last name of Bohnstedt, telling me: "I've heard that name before". He then asked me if I was related to Steve Bohnstedt, the body-builder.

The clerk also mentioned that he had heard that Steve had been a police officer before pursing a body-building career. I later found documents from civil actions (claims and grievances) originally filed by Steve Bohnstedt and Pierce Johnson Jr. against the State of California with regard to unfair labor practices. The papers state that

Johnson and Steve Bohnstedt (Bohnstedt) were employed by the State as youth counselors at the Fred C. Nelles School for Boys.

This youth correctional facility is in Whittier. I don't know if Steve Bohnstedt was a police officer before working in this capacity, or if this is what the clerk was referring to.

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1. Professor John W. Bohnstedt, far left (almost out of the picture), author of
The Infidel Scourge of God
2. Muscle and Bodybuilder Magazine, May 1984 issue; Steve Bohnstedt and Kathy Cafaro appear on the cover.

I contacted Steve, hoping to learn something about his ancestry, and the origins of his family line, but he told me he knew little, and that I should contact his father, John Bohnstedt, in Fresno, California. This was in itself an interesting revelation. John Wolfgang Bohnstedt is well-known in academic circles. If you perform an Internet Search using Google or other search engine for "John W. Bohnstedt" you will find countless references to The Infidel Scourge Of God; The Turkish Menace As Seen By German Pamphleteers Of The Reformation Era. This work was written by John Bohnstedt in the 1960's. You would be hard-pressed to find any scholarly book or printed work on history, or religion, or religious history, that does not reference The Infidel Scourge Of God in the bibliography.

1. The Infidel Scourge of God; The Turkish Menace as seen by German Pamphleteers by Professor John W. Bohnstedt
2. Professor/Doctor John W. Bohnstedt, from a newspaper article, circa 1966

John Bohnstedt earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Michigan State University, and a Master of Arts degree and a Doctorate from the University of Minnesota. He was Professor Emeritus of History at California State University Fresno for nearly fifty years from 1956 to 2002.

I wrote to John Bohnstedt in Fresno, asking him about his ancestry and family history. He returned a polite letter stating that he didn't know much about it, and, in his own words; "to be honest, had never had any interest in it". I later called him by telephone, and he repeated his earlier assertion that he didn't know much about about his Bohnstedt ancestry and family history and didn't really care. I personally thought this was somewhat curious, since he was a professor of history. John didn't even have enough interest to tell me about his parents.

While preparing for this Digital Edition I began digging a bit deeper, making extensive use of the World Wide Web. That's how I became aware of Werner Bohnstedt.


Werner A. Bohnstedt

There is a reference to a Werner Bohnstedt in Fresno in the United States Social Security indexes, giving his year of birth as 1899, and his death in 1971 in California. One brief reference on an Internet web site lists this person as "Werner Fritz Bohnstedt, born 1899 in Jatznick, deceased in 1971 in Fresno County California". This is partly true, but, as I found later, somewhat inaccurate. But this connection to Fresno County peaked my interest as being a possible link to John Bohnstedt.

But aside from the fact that he died in Fresno and was 28 when John was born there was no concrete evidence that this Werner Bohnstedt was John's father. However, like John W. Bohnstedt, Werner was a university professor, teaching economics and sociology in Panama from 1936 to 1940. One Internet reference to Werner Bohnstedt states that he left Germany because his wife did not like the climate.

Werner left Germany in 1936 and emigrated to Panama, where he took up a position at the university in Panama, and moved again to the United States in 1940. His social security number was issued in Michigan, and he was Professor of Social Politics at Michigan State University in East Lansing 1946 - 1965.

In my mind this provided another connection with John Bohnstedt. John himself, born in 1927 may have been born in Germany, but he was of the age to start college in 1946 (give or take a year) at Michigan State University at the same time that Werner was teaching at that same school. This is either bizarre coincidence, or Werner Bohnstedt and John Wolfgang Bohnstedt were related, most likely as father and son. If so this also meant that John Bohnstedt was born in Germany, lived in Panama from about age 9 and came to America with his parents when he was about 13 years old.

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1. The University Gets Religion: Religious Studies in American Higher Education by D. G. Hart, 2002
A Survey of Christian Ethics by Edward L. Long, 1982

I continued searching, and found a Werner Bohnstedt referenced in several books. In The University Gets Religion; Religious Studies in American Higher Education, author D.G. Hart writes:

According to Werner Bohnstedt, who reported on the first deliberations of the FCF, Christian scholars had for too long segregated their religious convictions from other areas of their lives, especially their work as scholars. He conceded that "two and two equals four, regardless of faith and philosophy" but the relevance of mathematical truth "may be a different one depending upon whether we are members of the Christian faith, or whether we think of our world as man centered and governed by reason alone."

Edward L. Long relates in A Survey of Christian Ethics;

Werner A. Bohnstedt, speaking perhaps for a middle position, suggests that the name Faculty Christian Fellowship implies more than a professional organization, more than a collection of men engaged in the same job; indeed, a "fellowship where one member cares for the other and will stand by him in times of prosperity and in the days of trouble."

In Bohnstedt's view the Faculty Christian Fellowship is a confessional group, bound together by a common loyalty to the Christian faith and dedicated to the exploration of it's implications for the academic enterprise.

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1. Fraulein Rabbiner Jonas: The Story of the First Woman Rabbi by Elisa Klapheck and Toby Axelrod, 2004
2. Professor/Doctor Werner Bohnstedt, from a 1942 newspaper article

It certainly appeared that the Werner Bohnstedt referenced or quoted in both of these books was an academician. It also appeared that he was a practicing Christian. Therefore I became a bit confused when I came across these passages in Fraulein Rabbiner Jonas: The Story of the First Woman Rabbi;

Norden's children, who had fled abroad, first heard about their father's alliance with Regina Jonas in November 1940. The family still has letters Norden wrote to his daughter Bertha and her husband, Werner Bohnstedt (who by then lived in Alliance, Ohio), as well as to his youngest daughter Hanna, and her husband, Josef Hochfeld, who had fled together to Tientsin in northern China.

This is, again, confusing, because we now have documents which show that Werner and his wife Bertha had three children; Hans Wolfgang "John" Bohnstedt (1927), Marianne Dorothea Bohnstedt (1930), and Hanna Margarete Bohnstedt (1936).  Hanna was indeed married, but records show that she attended High School in East Lansing, Michigan, and married in 1961 in Detroit Michigan to Hans Dieter Renning.  This caused me to wonder, briefly, if the author was thinking of Hanna's older sister, Marianne.  But this cant be right either, because Marianne attended high school in Michigan and married there as well.

School pictures of Werner and Bertha's children.  L-R; (1) Hans Wolfgang "John" Bohnstedt, Alliance High School, Alliance, Ohio, (2) Marianne Elisabeth Bohnstedt, East Lansing High School, Lansing Michigan, (3) Hanna Margarete Bohnstedt, Eastn Lansing High School, Lansing Michigan

Reading back a few more pages revealed that Norden, Bertha's father, was Rabbi Joseph Norden. So was Bertha's husband the same Werner Bohnstedt mentioned in the The University Gets Religion, and A Survey of Christian Ethics?

During past research efforts I had come across a Bertha Bohnstedt in the social security death indexes. It listed her as being born in Michigan in 1898, and deceased in California in 1983. I was very tempted to find a link between her and Werner Bohnstedt, because he had been in Michigan, and had died in California. Even so, I was still puzzled by the fact that the Werner Bohnstedt I was researching seemed to be Christian, an idea bolstered by his son's historical work: The Infidel Scourge Of God; The Turkish Menace As Seen By German Pamphleteers Of The Reformation Era.

But it was this publication that provided the connecting piece of the puzzle that put it all together: While researching this publication further I came across this a dedication by John W. Bohnstedt in The Infidel Scourge of God:

To My Father and My Mother, Werner A. Bohnstedt and Bertha Bohnstedt; my Wife, Frieda....

This one piece of text revealed several things. First, it confirmed that John Bohnstedt's father was indeed Werner Bohnstedt, second, it confirmed that John's mother was Bertha, and third, it revealed that the Werner Bohnstedt in question had the middle initial of "A". In one stroke this connected John Bohnstedt to Werner Bohnstedt academician, to Werner A. Bohnstedt referenced in A Survey of Christian Ethics, to The University Gets Religion, and to Bertha Bohnstedt of Fraulein Rabbiner Jonas.

Grave of John Bohnstedt (1927-2015) and Frieda Bohnstedt in Belmont Memorial Park Cemetery, Fresno California

As for "Werner Fritz Bohnstedt" I am now confident that the middle name of Fritz may be a publisher's mistake, as is the the idea that Werner died in Fresno County California. Werner A. Bohnstedt was born in 1899, and he did pass away in 1971, but in Turlock California, not in Fresno County. Turlock is in Stanislaus County, and while both are in the Central California valley, Stanislaus County is quite a few miles north / northwest of Fresno County.

As for Bertha she no doubt obtained her Social Security number in Michigan, which is why the social security indexes list her as being born in Michigan.


From Where Does This Line Originate?

One question that came to my mind was this; was Werner Bohnstedt descended from one of the Bohnstedt family lines discussed in this work, or was he Jewish, and therefore from a completely different Bohnstedt family?  As stated earlier, it seems from at least two books which reference Werner Bohnstedt that he was a practicing Christian. But did he originally come from a Christian family, or from a Jewish family? The answer at this time is, I don't know.

This may have been a religious mixed marriage. Remembering the reference to Werner Bohnstedt, who had left Germany because his wife did not like the climate, it came to me that perhaps the climate that was being referred to here was not the weather, but rather the political climate in the rise of Fascism in Germany, and the suppression of Jews and mixed marriages with Jews.

1. John Bohnstedt's son, Stephen Werner "Steve" Bohnstedt, high school picture
2. Steve Bohnstedt's (future) wife, Kathy Lynn Cafaro

So perhaps this is what happened: Werner left Germany in the 1930's because his wife was a Jew, and because the political climate there was becoming increasingly anti-Semitic. But why go to Panama? Remember that during the 1920's and 1930's Germany had been actively involved in gaining the favor and cooperation of many countries in Latin America. For example, Colonel Eberhard Bohnstedt had gone to El Salvador as a military advisor.

Because of this German influence in Latin America it may have made migration from Germany to a place like Panama much easier. I suppose it is ironic that this same German influence in Latin America that made it easier for Werner and his Jewish wife to migrate out of Germany also made it easier ten years later for Nazis to escape prosecution as war criminals in Germany.

1. John Bohnstedt's daughter; Mary Theresa Bohnstedt
2. Katherine Bohnstedt, of Fresno California.  I have not proved it conclusively, but I strongly believe that Katherine is Mary Theresa's daughter.

Various sources say that Werner was born in Jatznick, Pommern (Pomerania). I was tempted to try to make a connection with the Bohnstedt family in Swedish Pomerania, but have so far been unsuccessful. It is possible that this Bohnstedt line is descended from one of the other Bohnstedt branches discussed in this work. It is also just as possible that an ancestor of this line in the distant past changed his name to Bohnstedt from something else, and that their ancestors were not Bohnstedts at all.


Research Update: January 2016 

In January 2016, Lois Branch, a Bohnstedt descendant through Anna Catherine Sophia Mary Bohnstedt, as well as a skilled and tenacious genealogical researcher, attempted to trace this Bohnstedt line farther back. By this time John Wolfgang Bohnstedt had recently passed away (in 2015), and Werner Bohnstedt was long since deceased.  Even if John Bohnstedt had been alive, I suspect Lois would have run into the same problem I had: that John Bohnstedt had no interest in his family lineage and knew almost nothing about it.  However, Lois did manage to locate a younger sister of John Bohnstedt that we previously did not know existed; Hanna.  Through discussions with Hanna, as well as some dedicated document research, Lois found the following:

1. Fritz Werner Bohnstedt and Werner A. Bohnstedt were in fact the same person.  His full name was Fritz Werner August Bohnstedt.
2. Werner WAS the father of John Wolfgang Bohnstedt.
3. The marriage between Werner Bohnstedt and Bertha (Berta) Norden was a mixed religious marriage - Bertha was of Jewish descent, and her father had been a rabbi.  Werner and Bertha had been childhood friends.
4. Werner and Bertha had three children: Hans John Wolfgang B., Marianne Dorothea B., born 1930, and Hanna Margarete B., born 1936.
5. Werner and Bertha left Germany in 1936 because of growing hostility towards Jews, and by extension, to mixed marriages between Jews and non-Jews.  They left Germany, went to Panama where they stayed for about four years, and then moved on to the United States.

Despite all the extra information, much of it firming up what I had already suspected, it was still not possible to trace Werner Bohnstedt's family line back any farther.


Book References:
- Bohnstedt, John W. The Infidel Scourge of God. American Philosophical Society. 1968 (ISBN 0871695898)
- Muscle and Bodybuilder magazine. May 1984
- Hart, D. G.. The University Gets Religion: Religious Studies in American Higher Education. The Johns Hopkins University Press. 2002 (ISBN 080187100X)
Long, Edward Le Roy. Survey of Christian Ethics. Oxford University Press. 1982. (ISBN 019503242X)
- Klapheck, Elisa. Axelrod, Toby. Fräulein Rabbiner Jonas: The Story of the First Woman Rabbi. Jossey-Bass. 2004 (ISBN 0787969877)

See Also:
4-28 /
Genealogy and Records, Section 4-11: Panama, Fresno and Los Angeles

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