The title of this post has a double meaning, as you will see.
As I wrote in my last post, about ten years ago when I first found the genealogy page about the Katzenstein and Goldschmidt family compiled by David Baron and Roger Cibella, David (who is their family genealogist) at that point had traced the Katzenstein family line back as far as Gerson Katzenstein, my great-great-grandfather.
Fast forward to 2012 when I began to explore my family’s history and discovered, with the help of others, Barbara Greve’s work, which took the Katzenstein line back yet another generation to Scholum Katzenstein, my three-times great-grandfather. Now I could trace the family back as early as 1769 when Scholum was born in Jesberg, Germany. I entered all the data into my Ancestry family tree and thought, “Well, that’s incredible. But that must be as far as it can go, for sure.”
But I was wrong. Just recently I spoke again to David Baron, and he provided me with his new 2016 update to the Katzenstein family tree. Based on more recent data from Barbara Greve’s transcriptions of birth, marriage and death records from Jesberg and from photographs and transcriptions of headstones from the Jewish cemetery for Jesberg, David had been able to extrapolate even more information about the Katzenstein line.
Now he was able to go back three more generations. Scholum Katzenstein’s father was Meier Katz, my four-times great-grandfather. Meier was the son of Scholum ha Kohen, who was born in about 1720 in Jesberg; he was my five-times great-grandfather; his wife was Brendelchen, my five-times great-grandmother. Scholum’s father was Pinchas ha Kohen, also known as Bonum Katz. He was my six-times great-grandfather. Like all those who followed until Gerson emigrated, Pinchas had died in Jesberg, Germany.
(Update: As I described in a later post, there is disagreement between Barbara Greve and David Baron as to whether or not Bonum Katz/Pinchas ha Cohen was an ancestor of Meir Katz and thus my Katzenstein line. I’ve left this post as written subject to reaching some resolution of that disagreement.)
Now that I know how deep my family’s roots are in Jesberg, Germany, I am even more excited that I will be there next year, seeing the place where my Katzenstein ancestors lived at least as far back as the early 1700s. I will be able to see where they were born, where they lived, where they died, and where they are buried.
So I’ve done some research about this little town in Germany.
Jesberg is a small town located in the Schwalm-Eder-Kreis district of the state of Hesse in Germany. It is about forty miles south of Breuna, where my Hamberg relatives lived, and about fifty miles south of Sielen, where my Schoenthal relatives lived. According to Wikipedia, as of the end of 2015, the population of Jesberg was 2,347 people, and the town’s area is 19.22 square miles.
I could not find much of the history of Jesberg online, but Wikipedia reports that the Linsingen family built the Burg Jesberg, the castle, in 1241. Beyond that and a reference to the Prinzessgarten built by Maximilian von Hessen, I could not anything else online that describes the general history of Jesberg. I have written to the town to see if I can learn more about the history and the current economic and social aspects of the town.
I was surprisingly able to find more information about Jesberg’s Jewish history from several different sources. (See below.) There was first a Jewish presence in Jesberg in 1664. In 1774, there were five Jewish families in Jesberg; two years later there were seven Jewish families. At least one of those seven families had to have been members of my Katzenstein family.
Although Jews prayed together before 1832 in Jesberg, it wasn’t until that year that a synagogue was built. It was a two-story building that accommodated 44 men and 41 women; there was also space for a school and an apartment for the teacher, who generally also acted as the cantor and schochet (Kosher butcher).
By 1835, there were 53 Jewish residents of Jesberg. There was a mikveh and a cemetery, shared with a nearby community. Jews were engaged in farming, horse and cattle trading, trading of goods, and various other trades. Jesberg itself was a center for the cattle trade, and David Baron believes that many members of the Katz/enstein family were engaged in the cattle business.
By 1871, the Jewish population had grown to 77 people, constituting 8% of the overall population of 960 people. The Jewish population continued to grow, peaking at 89 people in 1905, which was more than 10% of the overall population of the town at that time. During that time period, there were also twenty to thirty children enrolled in the Jewish school.
As the twentieth century progressed, the Jewish population started to decline. The school closed in 1922, and in 1931, there were only six children receiving religious instruction in Jesberg. In 1932, the synagogue was renovated in honor of its 100th anniversary. The Jewish population in 1933 when Hitler came to power was 53 people.
Between 1933, and 1938, 27 Jesberg Jews emigrated from Germany; twenty went to the United States, seven to Palestine. Two families moved to Frankfurt. After the synagogue was destroyed in November 1938 during Kristallnacht, more Jews left. But not enough. At least 25 Jews from Jesberg were killed in the Holocaust, including a number of those from the extended Katz and Katzenstein families.
Jesberg was never a big town, and its Jewish population never exceeded much more than ten percent of the overall population. But there was once a real Jewish community there: a synagogue, a school, a mikveh, a kosher butcher, and a cemetery. Today there is no Jewish community there. Nevertheless, I want to see Jesberg just as I want to see Sielen, Breuna, Gau-Algesheim, Bingen, Schopfloch, and all the other towns where my ancestors lived in Germany.
Fortunately for me, my last direct ancestor to have been born in Jesberg, Gerson Katzenstein, my great-great-grandfather, emigrated from Germany in the mid-19th century. Because of that courageous move, my Katzenstein line has flourished. Not the same can be said for the families of most of Gerson’s siblings and cousins. More on that in posts to come.
The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust: A-J (Shmuel Spector, Geoffrey Wigoder, eds., NYU Press, 2001) p. 573. Found here.
Destroyed German Synagogues and Communities website, found here.
The Alemannia-Judaica site: http://www.alemannia-judaica.de/jesberg_synagoge.htm